TRONDHEIM, Norway, June 27 (UPI) -- Washington will ensure aboriginal communities are secured from oil and gas exploration efforts off the Alaskan coast, a U.S. official said from Norway.
The Norwegian government hosted an international conference on oil and natural gas development in arctic waters.
Warmer average temperatures have resulted in melting sea ice and glaciers, exposing vast unexplored areas that may hold oil and natural gas deposits.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the United States planned to have a lease sale in the Chukchi Sea in 2016 and another in the Beaufort Sea in 2017.
"These near-term exploratory activities would be limited in scale and for good reason," he said. "We want to be certain that any activity is well within planning, safety and response capabilities that are deployed."
Shell aims to begin an exploratory campaign in Alaskan waters during the summer. Salazar said inspectors would be on-site around the clock to ensure the supermajor is meeting safety standards.
Environmental groups have expressed concern about the affects an oil spill would have on the arctic ecosystem and surrounding communities.
"Our goal is to maximize the availability of oil and gas resources in those areas that we are making available for leasing, while minimizing potential conflicts with environmentally sensitive areas and the native Alaskan communities that rely on the ocean for subsistence use," said Salazar.