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Debate stirs over U.S. oil and gas leases

  |   Nov. 9, 2011 at 9:41 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Washington missed a chance to boost the economy with an offshore oil and gas lease program, critics say, but some skeptics said it was a good first step.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a proposed five-year lease program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental shelf. The proposal calls for 12 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the Alaskan coast.

Supporters of more domestic oil and gas development complained the decision left out key areas such as offshore Virginia and other potential reserves off the Atlantic Coast.

"We are disappointed that the administration is once again forgoing an opportunity to make our energy future more secure and our economy more competitive," Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a statement.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates Alaska has as much as 896 million barrels of oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Salazar's proposal includes just one lease sale for parts of the Alaskan coast, however. U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp in July statements before U.S. lawmakers said his agency was starting from "ground zero" in terms of response capabilities to a potential oil spill in arctic waters.

Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, complained Salazar ignored several key opportunities for OCS development and overall energy security but said the proposal was a good first step.

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