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Obama To Expand Drilling Off Alaska, In Gulf

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WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Tuesday announced its five-year offshore drilling plan, which includes an emphasis on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, continuing the administration's policy of expanding domestic production of energy.

Less than two years after the BP oil disaster, the Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program will make more than 75 percent of oil and gas resources that are undiscovered and technically recoverable now available for exploration and development.

Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar praised the program as an important step toward economic recovery.

"Expanding safe and responsible oil and gas production from the program is a key component of our comprehensive energy strategy to grow America's energy economy, and will help us continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create jobs here at home," he said in a statement.

Environmental activists immediately criticized the proposal as lacking proper safety protocol.

"Congress has failed to pass a single law to better protect workers or the environment," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a statement. "Industry has not invested sufficiently in developing the technologies needed to prevent future disasters."

Beinecke also added that now is not the time to open up vulnerable environmental areas to energy production.

"Today, the Gulf region is still struggling to rebuild. This is not the time to put the region at greater risk," she said. "Nor is it the time to open the doors to drilling in the treacherous and remote Arctic, which is more than a thousand miles from the closest clean-up crew and home to pristine habitat for a range of endangered species."

Reactions from Republicans in Congress were mixed. Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the administration hasn't gone far enough.

"The Obama administration's draft plan places some of the most promising energy resources in the world off-limits," Hastings said.

Others, such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), were more pleased by the proposal.

"While the administration has not opened any new areas to leasing, I'm encouraged that they are moving forward with offering sales in both the Beaufort and Chukchi seas," she said in a statement.

The Department of Interior is required to prepare a five-year program that includes a schedule of oil and gas lease sales. This proposal covers the years 2012 to 2017.

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