President Barack Obama. Image courtesy of The White House/Flickr.

President Obama said Tuesday the federal government will permanently ban oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski said oil and gas companies have not shown interest in the bay and she will not object to Obama’s decision, the AP said.

The bay, located in the northern section of the Alaskan Peninsula, provides the United States with 40 percent of all its wild seafood and generates up to $2 billion a year in commercial fishing revenues.

Government estimates place the net value of the bay’s oil and gas reserves at $7.7 billion.

“Bristol Bay has supported Native Americans in the Alaska region for centuries. It is a natural wonder, and it’s something that’s just too precious to be putting out to the highest bidder,” Obama said.

In 2010, the federal government temporarily blocked drilling at the 52,234 square mile bay.

The temporary suspension was set to expire in 2017.

No drilling projects have ever taken place at Bristol Bay although the U.S. Interior Department did offer exploration and development permits at the site in 1986.

Following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska the federal government bought back the Bristol Bay leases for $95 million.

Trade groups criticized Obama’s decision and said the inflexibility of an outright ban will hurt the country’s push for more energy independence.

“Today’s actions serve to undermine this nation’s ability to achieve an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy that corresponds
to our constantly evolving energy needs as this action takes Bristol Bay off the table for consideration for generations,” Alaska Oil and Gas Association president and CEO Kara Moriarty said.


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