Bush opens Alaska’s 5.6-million-acre Bristol Bay to drilling

Just a few days after a bipartisan push to ban drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge made headlines, the U.S. Driller-in-Chief lifted a ban on resource extraction in Alaska’s 5.6-million-acre Bristol Bay. Playing the energy-security card, President Bush is raising hackles left and right: The bay is home to endangered whales, one of the world’s largest and most valuable commercial fisheries, and the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. “It’s incredibly reckless to risk such an outstanding natural resource just to satisfy Big Oil,” says Sierra Club Director Carl Pope. And feckless, we might add. Locals backing the project say they’ll end their support if drilling is found to harm the environment or the fishery (uh …), and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne says, “There will be significant opportunities for study and public comment before any oil and gas development could take place.” Pending environmental reviews, Bristol Bay leases could be available as soon as 2010.