WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama will announce plans later Wednesday to allow offshore drilling off the east coast of the United States, the gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska.
Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are to make the announcement at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
The move is projected to win support from the oil industry for energy and climate legislation, and is expected to hit the Senate within the next few weeks.
The plan will open areas of the Atlantic and Arctic coasts to oil and natural gas drilling for the first time, ending a moratorium on a 167-million-acre region off the eastern shore from northern Delaware to Florida’s central coast. Another 130-million-acre region in northern Alaska also is planned.
Under the proposal, the U.S. coast north of New Jersey and the Pacific Ocean’s stretch of coastline from Mexico to Canada would remain closed to drilling, as would the environmentally sensitive region of southwestern Alaska, including Bristol Bay, home to endangered whales and commercial fisheries.
The planned drilling area in the gulf will yield as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The first lease sale is expected to be a section of ocean 50 miles off the coast of Virginia. The area is already approved for development and drilling may begin early next year.
Additional lease sales are not expected to take place before 2012, after lengthy geologic and environmental studies, public comment periods and potential court challenges.
In his announcement Wednesday, Obama is expected to propose cutting back on importing oil from foreign sources, supplying military vehicles with more biofuels, and purchasing a fleet of 5,000 hybrid vehicles for government use.