Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to visit

Posted: Monday, April 13, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will come to Alaska this week to discuss with residents whether or not offshore oil and gas development should be allowed in federal waters off Alaska's coast.

The federal government has proposed oil and gas lease sales in the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea and the Bristol Bay region. The input that the secretary receives will be included in the Obama administration's offshore energy plan, scheduled for completion in six months.

Plans call for an all-day public hearing Tuesday at the Dena'ina Convention Center in Anchorage.

Salazar also is hosting a similar meeting today in Dillingham, where several groups say they plan to ask him to reverse a Bush administration decision to allow mining claims on federal land downstream of the massive copper and gold Pebble prospect.

The Interior Department controls most of the land in Alaska. It oversees national parks and wilderness. It sells oil and gas leases on the North Slope. It helps regulate fishing and hunting. Its Bureau of Indian Affairs is concerned with the welfare of Alaska Natives.

The department's Minerals Management Service estimates Alaska's offshore energy basins might hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. But many tribal governments oppose drilling because they fear potential damage to commercial fisheries in the Bristol Bay region and subsistence hunts in Arctic waters.

Gov. Sarah Palin and most of the Alaska congressional delegation plan to testify. So will Native leaders.

Salazar has not taken a stance on Alaska's proposed lease sales. He has said that President Obama's energy plan will emphasize renewable energy and include new oil and gas development in certain coastal areas.

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