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U.S. to Move Forward With 'Priority' Arctic Oil, Gas Lease Sales

TRONDHEIM, Norway--The U.S. is going to push forward with Arctic oil and gas lease sales in the Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi Sea, said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar Tuesday. "Opening up and developing our domestic resources is a priority for us," Secretary Salazar told Dow Jones Newswires at the sidelines of a conference about Arctic oil and gas drilling held in Trondheim in central Norway. Opening up more U.S. Arctic areas for drilling could further increase the country's already-rising domestic oil and gas production, reducing dependence on foreign imports. But exploitation of Arctic resources has been opposed by environmentalists. "A few years ago, when I was a U.S. Senator, we were speaking at the time about [liquefied natural gas] terminals and importing LNG to the U.S.," Mr. Salazar said. "Now the conversation I hear from the industry is the potential for excess natural gas in the U.S. So things have changed dramatically in five years." The secretary said that the U.S. government will release its 2012-2017 Program in the coming days, providing detail and maps and outlining the next steps for potential energy exploration in the U.S. Arctic. "There will be lease sales scheduled in both the Chukchi [Sea] and the Beaufort [Sea]," Mr. Salazar said. "We are also doing it a very targeted way, so the 30 mile buffer which now exists in both the Chukchi and the Beaufort will continue." An area in the Chukchi Sea which is of especially high value to the people [there] won't be up for sale, he said, adding that the lease sales will be held in 2016 and 2017. "There is already a very large amount of acreage which has been leased both in the Chukchi and the Beaufort, and in fact, applications for the exploration permits that are being filed in the Chukchi and the Beaufort Seas by both Shell and ConocoPhilips and other companies are based on those leases which we have recognized as valid," Mr. Salazar said. U.S. crude oil production is expected to rise from 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010, to 6.7 million barrels per day in 2020, and the country is expected to become a net exporter of LNG in 2016 and an overall net exporter of natural gas in 2021, according to the Annual Energy Outlook for 2012 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Our hope is that we do get to a point where the U.S. can be an energy independent nation through fuel efficiency, through advanced technology, battery powered electric vehicles, renewable energy, and also recognizing oil and gas is going to be a part of our future as well," said Secretary Salazar. Write to Kjetil Malkenes Hovland at kjetilmalkenes.hovland@dowjones.com

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