POLITICS
01/25/2015 11:16 am ET Updated Mar 27, 2015

Obama To Propose Protecting 1.4 Million Acres Of U.S. Arctic Refuge

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(Adds part of Arctic Ocean to be off limits, background)

WASHINGTON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will propose protecting 1.4 million acres (556,000 hectares) of the Arctic from oil and gas drilling, the Interior Department said on Sunday.

The administration plans to propose designating the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection under which oil and gas drilling is banned, it said in a statement.

The Washington Post said earlier that the Interior Department would also place part of the Arctic Ocean off limits to drilling and is considering additional limits on oil and gas production in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

The announcement is one of a series that the Interior Department will make this week that will affect Alaska's oil and gas production, the Post said.

The U.S. Congress needs to approve any wilderness designation, but the Interior Department will start managing the area under that level of protection immediately, the newspaper reported.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was angry at the Obama administration's move, which she called an attack on Alaska. On Friday, she had introduced a bill that would have permitted oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"It's clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska," Murkowski said in a statement on Sunday.

"We will fight back with every resource at our disposal," she said.

The area in question, a narrow strip wedged between the peaks of the Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean, is a vital site for polar bears and the migratory Porcupine caribou herd which raises young there.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the coastal plain holds 10.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. (Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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