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Obama blocks new oil, gas drilling in Arctic Ocean

By Shannon Ballard/AP 9:26 AM November 18, 2016

The Obama Administration is blocking new oil and gas drilling in the Artic Ocean, citing the regions fragile and unique ecosystem.

It’s a victory for environmentalists such as Rick Steiner, who said industrial activity in the icy waters could hurt marine mammals.

“Even if nothing goes wrong, the risks and impacts are unacceptable,” Steiner said. “The last thing we want to do is put more risk and impact into this struggling ecosystem.”

A 5-year offshore drilling plan, announced on Friday, blocks the planned sale of new oil and gas drilling rights in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas from 2017 to 2022.

The plan will allow drilling in Alaska’s Cook Inlet to go forward.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said he didn’t see this coming.

“It means we won’t be able to explore offshore,” Walker said.

He’s been collaborating with different Alaska groups and recently met with the Department of Interior about how the Arctic could be developed responsibly.

According to Walker, the folks in Washington D.C. ignored the wishes of Alaska and that it will result in a major blow to the state’s economy.

“We became a state under the understanding that we’d be able to fund our state through the responsible development of our resources,” Walker said. “When they take it off the table and don’t allow us to have access to it, how do they expect us to have an economy without access to our resources?”

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA) reports that 75 percent of Alaska citizens want there to be of offshore exploration and development.

AOGA Environmental Council, Joshua Kindred, hopes a new presidential administration will provide a path forward.

“We do think maybe in a year, a year or two of planning from BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) and the Department of the Interior will allow for these lease sales to be reintroduced into the 5-year program,” Kindred said.

It’s happened before.

“New administrations do it all the time. Bristol Bay has been kicked back and forth and back and forth,” Steiner said.

And it could happen again.

KTVA 11’s Shannon Ballard can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter

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