Alaskans sound off on Arctic oil drilling

The battle over opening a new oil and gas frontier off Alaska's Arctic coast shifted to a downtown Anchorage meeting room Thursday. There, the Obama administration heard fervent but conflicting opinions about whether it should end its hold on a major drilling project.

The head of the agency that regulates drilling in federal waters hosted the fact-finding forum to help him review this summer's controversial decision to suspend offshore exploration projects in Alaska and the Lower 48 in the aftermath of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Some Alaska politicians criticized the Obama administration's suspension of work on Shell Oil's plans to drill for oil on its leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. But some Alaska Native leaders, environmentalists and a former state oil-industry regulator ticked down a long list of reasons why the agency should move cautiously on the Arctic: An oil spill in broken ice could be difficult or even impossible to clean up, hurricane-strength storms strafe the region, the nearest Coast Guard base is nearly 1,000 miles away, and the scarcity of roads and landing strips on the Arctic coast make mobilizing a spill response problematic.

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