Bush Pushes for Offshore Oil Drilling in Alaska

The Bush administration is moving aggressively to open Alaska’s coastal waters to oil exploration — a campaign that is not getting nearly as much public scrutiny as efforts to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The administration plans to offer eight oil and gas lease sales in Alaska’s federal waters over the next five years, starting with a 9.4 million-acre offering this month in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea. To boost interest in the Beaufort lease, the federal Minerals Management Service is offering royalty breaks that could let oil producers make away with as many of 45 million barrels of oil royalty-free. But citizen resistance to offshore exploration is bubbling up. The Inupiat Eskimos of Alaska’s North Slope oppose drilling in their whale-hunting grounds, and other citizens and environmentalists warn of potential harm to polar bears and other wildlife, particularly if development led to an oil spill in the region.