Obama shields Alaska bay from oil, gas leasing

President Obama on Tuesday moved to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from oil and gas exploration without making any mention of a contentious copper and gold mine project in the area.

The executive action will help shield Bristol Bay, which supports a $2 billion commercial fishing industry, from oil and gas leasing.

“I took action to make sure that one of America’s greatest natural resources and a massive economic engine for not only for Alaska but for America, Bristol Bay, is preserved for future generations,” Obama said in a video released by the White House.

The action extends a temporary protection the president had placed on Bristol Bay from oil and gas leasing in 2010, which was set to expire in 2017.

"It is something that is too precious for us to put out to highest bidder," Obama said.

While the action protects the region from oil and gas operations, the proclamation issued by Obama does not affect a proposed copper and gold mining project by developer Pebble Mine.

The mine is the center of a contentious debate among tribes, and fisheries reliant on the bay and Pebble.

Bristol Bay had not been seen as a major target for the next five-year leasing plan that the Interior Department is working on. Industry groups have expressed more interest in being able to explore for oil and gas in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

“Given the lack of interest by industry and the public divide over allowing oil and gas exploration in this area, I am not objecting to this decision at this time,” said Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiWriting in Mike Pence won’t do any good in these states GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide MORE (R-Alaska.)

“I think we all recognize that these are some of our state’s richest fishing waters. What I do not understand is why this decision could not be made within the context of the administration’s upcoming plan for offshore leasing — or at least announced at the same time,” she added.