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Date: Fri, 7 Nov 97 10:37:42 CST
From: rich@pencil.CC.WAYNE.EDU (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Interior Department Denies Bid To Block Arctic Oil Drilling
/** headlines: 179.0 **/
** Topic: Interior Department Denies Bid To Block Arctic Oil Drilling **
** Written 6:39 PM Nov 6, 1997 by econet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 7:42 AM Nov 4, 1997 by twilight13@rocketmail.com in list.ar-news */
/* ---------- "(US)Arctic Oil Drilling" ---------- */
05:20 PM ET 11/03/97

Interior denies bid to block Arctic oil drilling

By Vicki Allen, Reuter
3 November 1997

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Interior Department in a letter released Monday rejected a petition from environmental groups seeking to halt oil and natural gas drilling off the coast of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Atlantic Richfield Co.'s plan to search for oil in the Beaufort Sea off the Arctic refuge has adequate safeguards to protect the area that is home to abundant wildlife including polar bears, musk oxen and caribou, the department said in a letter released by environmental groups.

The exploratory drilling plan "has been meticulously reviewed so that it is responsive to stringent regulatory requirements...," the letter from Cynthia Quarterman, director of the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS), said.

The MMS, which handles oil and natural gas leases for federal lands and coastal waters, approved the project in August.

The project has since been the target of environmental protests, including an attempt by Greenpeace to physically block ARCO from moving a huge drilling platform to waters off the refuge.

Nine groups last month petitioned Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to block ARCO from drilling in the Beaufort Sea about 3.5 miles off the wildlife refuge's coast.

The groups that included the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and Northern Alaska Environmental Center, said Babbitt should halt the project under a law that gives him power to suspend drilling in specific waters or to cancel oil and gas lease sales and refund the purchasers.

Their petition said oil and gas development would imperil wildlife and the pristine ecosystem through pollution from waste discharges and potential oil spills.

"The administration is allowing ARCO to proceed with a risky drilling plan that leaves the entire coastline of the refuge open to the threat of a massive oil spill," Brian O'Donnell, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.

But Quarterman, writing in Babbitt's behalf, said the administration's policies would protect the refuge.

"The secretary has asked that I make it unequivocally clear that this administration and this department are fully committed to the protection of the ANWR," she said, adding that no drilling activity would be allowed in its borders.

The Clinton administration has repeatedly rejected oil industry demands to be allowed to drill inside ANWR's coastal plain, but sold ARCO rights to explore offshore of the refuge.

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