Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell Copyright Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

US Proposal Opens Atlantic to Oil Drilling

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government announced plans to open swathes of the western Atlantic to oil and gas drilling Tuesday, while simultaneously protecting seas off Alaska's coast.

President Barack Obama called for 9.8 million acres in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas to be off limits, while his Interior Department announced plans to drill in the Atlantic from Virginia to Georgia.

Obama's White House said the proposals were part of a "balanced approach" that judged the debate over drilling in each area on its own merits.

The White House called the designated part of the Alaskan coast "part of one of the last great marine wildernesses left untouched by development."

That move is sure to anger the energy industry and its supporters, who have long sought to further tap Alaska's oil and gas wealth.

But they will have some consolation from plans to open up new areas to leasing, including an area in the Mid- and South Atlantic, as well as areas in the already heavily tapped Gulf of Mexico.

"At this early stage in considering a lease sale in the Atlantic, we are looking to build up our understanding of resource potential, as well as risks to the environment and other uses," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

That proposal is likely to anger environmentalists.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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