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he meetings were private, but several participants said the major subject of discussion was concern over possible oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea, where Shell Corp. has obtained a number of drilling leases from the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service.

Kaktovik Mayor Lon Sonsalla said that people are worried about Shell's plans and that he told Kempthorne the town of about 260 people doesn't have the money to analyze the drilling proposal, much less fight it.

"This isn't just aesthetics out there. ... People depend on it for food," he said in an interview, referring to the whaling that many of the people in town consider a tradition each year.

The fall whaling season starts on Monday.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been the focus of a 25-year battle over whether to tap vast oil reserves under a coastal plain along the Beaufort Sea.

The mayor said he was not opposed to oil development in the coastal strip as long as the town has some say in how it's done.

Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor and Republican senator who was confirmed as interior secretary in May, supports oil drilling in a 1.5 million-acre area of the 19 million acre refuge and voted for it when he was in the Senate.

"There's a (wildlife) reserve there," he said before the aborted flight. "But we've seen so many different areas where we can responsibly recover resources and do it while meeting the highest environmental standards. I think it's also important to see it."

Environmentalists look at the refuge as a wildlife paradise on the order of the Serengeti sanctuary in Tanzania. The refuge is home to 45 species of land and marine mammals, including polar bears, grizzly, black bear, muskox and caribou. Millions of migratory birds also use the refuge's coastal plain.

Under it is what geologists say is the nation's largest untapped oil reserve, anywhere from 5.6 billion to 16 billion barrels.

Kempthorne was accompanied on his North Slope tour by senior Interior officials and several of the department's regional officials, based in Anchorage.

On Wednesday, Kempthorne toured a Prudhoe Bay oil complex operated by BP PLC, including a visit to the stretch of BP pipeline where severe pipe corrosion caused Prudhoe oil production to shut down in early August.

Half the pipeline system has since been restored, bypassing a section where corrosion caused a 270,000-gallon spill last March. But the other half remains out of commission as BP engineers try to determine if part of it can be used temporarily.

BP said it is replacing the 16 miles of pipe next year.

Earlier on his trip, Kempthorne visited ConocoPhillips' Alpine oil fields, the newest on the North Slope. He also checked out the early warning system for detecting a deadly bird flu virus.

On Friday, Kempthorne was scheduled to speak to a business group in Anchorage and meet with environmentalists.
Contact Information
  • Contact PersonMr. Hok Li
  • Telephone1-415-8122781
  • Fax Number1-415-8122781
  • Website
  • Post Code94132
  • AddressPo Box320336, San Fancisco, California, United States
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