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Interior Chief Announces Alaskan Offshore Drilling Delay With PM-Tanker Spill, Bjt

May 18, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The Interior Department announced a year’s postponement of a Gulf of Alaska oil lease sale because of environmental concerns, even though state officials said a sale there posed little risk.

A spokesman for Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper urged the federal agency to reconsider a lease sale in Bristol Bay, the state’s richest fishing area, because the state believes it poses a much greater potential ecological danger.

Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. said Wednesday the gulf sale proposed for August 1990, in an area known as Lease Sale 114, was delayed because additional time is needed to assess damage from the Exxon oil spill in Prince William Sound. The tanker Exxon Valdez hit a reef and spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the sound March 24.

Terence O’Malley, Cowper’s spokesman, called the delay ″probably a good idea in light of Prince William Sound. ... However, since there’s probably not that great of a chance of oil being discovered there the risk is minimal.″

Alaska authorities want the Interior Department to reconsider its Bristol Bay lease sale, ″where the risks of a catastrophic oil spills are much greater,″ O’Malley said.

Drilling has not started there, but nine oil companies last year paid the federal government $95 million for the right to explore for oil and gas.

The state went to court to block the leases, but lost before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It plans an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if Congress or the Bush administration doesn’t buy back the leases.

The environmental assessment for the gulf sale had been scheduled for publication in September. If the Interior Department decides next year to go ahead with a new review, additional public comment will be sought.

Lujan said Interior officials will work closely with Cowper and local communities.

The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday quoted Lujan aide Steve Goldstein as saying the decision ″should not be read as a cancellation″ of the lease project. ″This is a postponement to gather information while new facts are coming to light.″

Another aide, Mark Stephenson in Washington, D.C., said that the delay should take about a year because it will take that long to evaluate the Valdez spill impact.

Lujan’s official announcement came at the start of the Interior chief’s Western tour with an itinerary including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area headquarters, the Presidio Army base near the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Las Vegas, the Fort Irwin National Training Center and a meeting with California Gov. George Deukmejian.

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