Anchorage— President Bush has lifted the drilling ban for Alaska's Bristol Bay, clearing the way for the Interior Department to open the waters to oil and natural gas development. He took the action on the same day that the trans-Alaska oil pipeline was taken offline after a spill of up to 500 gallons.
The presidential drilling ban was not scheduled to expire until 2012. Alaska officials and local communities had asked for the Bristol Bay ban to be lifted, but environmentalists have warned against drilling in the bay, which is also a major fishing area for salmon, crab and cod. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said one or two lease sales in about 5.6 million acres of Bristol Bay will be considered for leasing in the department's upcoming five-year 2007–2012 lease plan.
The pipeline was carrying more than 800,000 barrels of oil when it was shut down in January. The crude oil spilled from an aboveground section at a remote gate in the Brooks Range in northern Alaska. The cause of the spill was a failed weld on a threaded O-ring fitting on a bypass line, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said. Alyeska Pipeline Co. officials closed valves on the line, and there was no further oil spilled.