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White House opens up southern Atlantic to offshore drilling

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The White House announced plans Tuesday to allow oil drilling in the Atlantic waters off several Southeastern states, while also moving to curb access to oil along the Pacific and in environmentally sensitive locations in Alaska.

The plan aims to protect fragile parts of Alaska’s ecosystem, while leading to the possible development of offshore drilling in locations such as the southern Chesapeake and in Georgia, according to The Washington Post.

The news comes as the price for a barrel of oil remains near $50 following a precipitous drop in the second half of 2014.

Today’s announcement is part of a five-year program that sets boundaries, and a schedule, for oil development in federal waters until 2022, according to the Post. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has the ability to further restrict the White House’s proposed area, but cannot make it any larger.

Oil and gas extracted from the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf accounts for about 18% of domestic oil production and 5% of domestic natural gas production, according to a White House statement.

The area offered for development includes the middle and southern Atlantic coast, including areas of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. There would be a 50-mile zone away from the coast to protect the coastline should oil spills occur.

“This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. She also said the plan is at an “early-stage,” with a public comment period to follow.

“We look forward to continuing to hear from the public as we work to finalize the proposal,” Jewell added.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Ross Hopper said: “We anticipate robust dialogue with stakeholders in the coming months that will help us prepare a program that emphasizes protection of the marine environment and coastal economies and uses the best available science and technology to inform our decision-making.”

Critics of the White House plan say it’s too restrictive, especially for Alaska.

“We will not tolerate it,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “We will do everything we can to push back against an administration that has taken a look at Alaska and decided it’s a ‘nice little snow globe up there and we’re going to keep it that way.’ That’s not how you treat a state.”