The Associated Press February 26, 2011, 4:25AM ET

Alaskans weigh in on offshore lease plan proposal

Alaska drilling advocates on Friday night dominated a federal public hearing seeking comment on a proposed five-year plan for offshore oil and gas lease sales that includes the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

More than 100 people signed up to testify at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management scoping session covering 2012-2017 but fewer than half had time to make comments during the three-hour session.

Pro-drilling forces offered pizza and soft drinks to encourage supporters to arrive early and sign up to testify. The agency took them in order and drilling opponents, including those who arrived more than an hour early, finally got their chance near the end of the session.

State Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan led off testimony and said Gov. Sean Parnell advocates additional lease sales in the Arctic Ocean.

"I strongly believe that the vast, vast majority of Alaskans in all walks of life share this position," he said.

Alaska's No. 1 industry is petroleum and upward of 90 percent of state general fund income comes from the oil industry. However, the trans-Alaska pipeline is operating at less than one-third capacity and state officials fear it could shut down without additional sources.

"OCS development will be a very important part of stemming the TAPS decline," Sullivan said. "It will also have a huge impact in terms of jobs and federal revenue and state revenue."

He also said Alaskans feel enormous frustration with federal government as a partner in resource development projects.

"To put it bluntly, you are missing in action," he said. The federal government, Sullivan said, has shifted from a policy of promoting environmental protection to shutting down resource development through misuse of endangered species law and wilderness designations. That pushes U.S. oil purchases to other countries, he said.

"Those countries don't have near the environmental stringent requirements that we do," he said.

Several dozen other drilling advocates followed and spelled out how the state economy and the country need the oil and gas Alaska has to offer.

Carl Portman of the Resource Development Council said drillng can be done safely. About 30 wells have been drilled in the Beaufort and five in the Chukchi, all using older technology and all without a blowout, he said.

A study paid for by Shell Oil and released this week used federal estimates that the Beaufort and Chukchi seas hold 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

By the time 30 people had testified, the meeting was interrupted by Leslie Cornick, a marine biology teacher at Alaska Pacific University, who asked if the agency intended to listen to anyone on the other side. She finally got her chance to speak with 15 minutes remaining.

She took issue with Alaskans saying they did not want the federal government telling them how they should develop their resources.

"Unless you're an Alaska Native, we all came from somewhere else, and we have been telling the Alaska Natives what do to with their resources ever since we got here," she said.

Drilling, she said, threatens the ocean bounty that Arctic coastal communities rely on.

"Oil and gas are not the only resources in this state," she said. "And they are not the resources on which the Alaska Natives primarily depend."

History has plenty of examples of the downside of drilling, from the Exxon Valdez to Deepwater Horizon to a tanker that spilled oil last week in a Norwegian marine national park. The technology does not exist to clean spills in ice, she said.

The remote northern coast of Alaska lacks infrastructure needed to respond to a spill, she said.

"I am opposed, vehemently, to these leases going forward in the current period because we aren't ready," Cornick said. "The Arctic is not ready."


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