Associated Press
Oil   Policy

Interior's offshore oil plan hit from both sides

The Interior Department got mixed reviews Tuesday on its draft five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program and President Barack Obama's related order to permanently bar drilling on 9.8 million acres of Arctic Ocean areas off Alaska's North Slope.

The 2017-2022 plan would schedule 14 lease sales, including one that would re-open the Atlantic Ocean to potential drilling after 2021.

Another three Alaska lease sales would be held starting in 2020 for areas in the Cook Inlet, the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and the other 10 would all be for tracts in the central and western Gulf of Mexico.

The Pacific Ocean and a section of the eastern Gulf of Mexico not under a moratorium were left out.

'Wicked storm': Blizzard slams New England with heavy snow

BOSTON (AP) — Its winds howling at more than 70 mph, the Blizzard of 2015 slammed Boston and surrounding parts of New England on Tuesday with none of the mercy it unexpectedly showed New York City, piling up more than 2 feet of snow.

The storm punched out a 40-to-50-foot section of a seawall in Marshfield, Massachusetts, badly damaging a vacant home. In Newport, Rhode Island, it toppled a 110-foot replica of a Revolutionary War sailing vessel as the ship lay in drydock, breaking its mast and puncturing its hull.

NTSB: Systemic flaws in safety oversight of gas pipelines

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three powerful accidents in recent years show systemic weaknesses in how natural gas providers maintain the largest pipelines in their networks, accident investigators said Tuesday as they issued more than two dozen safety recommendations.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in the decade since the government set rules for pipeline inspections in "high consequence" areas where an explosion is likely to hurt people or destroy buildings, there appears to have been a slight leveling off of such incidents, but no decline.


Executive: No guarantee BP would help pay subsidiary's fines

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An executive for the BP subsidiary that faces billions of dollars in possible fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill testified Tuesday that it is uncertain whether other BP entities would step in to help pay a steep penalty.

The day's first witness was Richard Morrison, regional president and chairman of the board for BP Exploration and Production, often referred to in court as BPX&P. He acknowledged three times since the spill when BP entities have aided his corporation with loans or equity purchases but added that he had no way of knowing whether parent corporation BP PLC or other entities would provide more help.

Democrats put brakes on Iran sanctions bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats on Tuesday put the brakes on new Iran sanctions legislation, ending for now a looming showdown between Congress and President Barack Obama over negotiations to prevent Tehran from having the capability to make a nuclear weapon.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a leading proponent of the legislation, says he remains skeptical a deal will materialize, but says he and nine other Democrats now won't push the bill at least until the end of March. Menendez' concession to the White House is good news for Obama, who has threatened to veto any new sanctions legislation.

Obama team asks Congress for enhanced trade-deal authority

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Democratic senator's complaints Tuesday, and noisy protesters, underscored the Obama administration's challenge in seeking congressional approval for enhanced powers to cut trade deals with Japan, Australia and many other countries.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said he worries that new trade deals will not help middle class incomes. He also insisted the United States do more to prevent China from keeping its currency's value artificially low, which enhances Chinese exports and dampens imports.

Unemployment rates fall in 42 US states amid broad hiring

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unemployment rates fell in 42 U.S. states last month, the latest sign that strong hiring is boosting job opportunities nationwide.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that rates rose in just four states last month and were unchanged in four others.


Orders for US durable goods stumbled in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders for long-lasting manufactured goods dropped sharply in December, as U.S. businesses trimmed spending amid escalating worries about the global economy.

Orders for durable goods fell 3.4 percent in December, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. It was the biggest retreat in four months and followed a 2.1 percent decline in November, which represented a major downward revision from the previous estimate of a 0.9 percent drop.


Caterpillar 4Q results mixed, 2015 outlook disappoints

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — Caterpillar took a hit in the fourth quarter from restructuring costs and the heavy machinery maker issued a weak outlook for 2015, citing the tumbling price of commodities.

Shares slumped more than 7 percent Tuesday before the markets opened.

The company is cutting costs as it tries to offset problems that are out of its control, like the falling price for everything from copper to crude.


American Airlines 4th-qtr profit gets lift from cheap fuel

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — American Airlines is logging record profits and rewarding shareholders just one year removed from bankruptcy court and a big merger.

The airline is getting a huge lift from cheaper fuel — savings could top $5 billion this year — and travel demand that shows no sign of weakening. CEO Doug Parker says 2015 is shaping up as another strong year.

Massachusetts nuclear reactor shuts down during snowstorm

PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts nuclear power plant shut down automatically Tuesday after the blizzard moving through the region interrupted power flow, but there was never any danger to the public, authorities said.

The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, the state's only nuclear power plant, shut down automatically at about 4 a.m. Tuesday when the electrical connections it uses to transmit electricity to the grid were interrupted, plant management said in a statement. Output had already been reduced to 20 percent because of the storm.


W.Va. town restoring water service following diesel spill

LEWISBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Officials in southeastern West Virginia are turning the water back on for about 12,000 Lewisburg area residents who lost service after a diesel fuel spill.

Media outlets report the state Bureau of Public Health notified the city around 7 p.m. Monday that it could restart its water treatment plant. Tests found no contamination at the city's intakes along the Greenbrier River.

Monarch butterflies rebound in Mexico, numbers still low

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The number of Monarch butterflies that reached wintering grounds in Mexico has rebounded 69 percent from last year's lowest-on-record levels, but their numbers remain very low, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Last year, the Monarchs covered only 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares), the smallest area since record-keeping began in 1993.

Interior Department photo

Interior offshore plan limits Arctic, opens Atlantic exploration

The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed a 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing blueprint that opens the door to exploration in the Atlantic Ocean, but will limit Arctic Ocean drilling to areas outside 9.8 million sensitive acres that President Barack Obama will permanently put off-limits.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters the proposal may be changed before a final version of the plan is sent to Congress by mid-2017, based on public and stakeholder comment and additional study.

The plan proposes 14 sales, with 10 combined in the central and western Gulf of Mexico. 

One sale would be held for an Atlantic area off Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, outside a 50-mile buffer zone, no sooner than 2021. No sales are proposed for the Pacific Ocean, which Jewell said reflects opposition of West Coast states to new exploration.

Three sales are proposed for Alaska, one each in the Cook Inlet, the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea, starting in 2020.

The areas in the seas permanently withdrawn from potential exploration include four along the Chukchi coastline that are already off limits under the current leasing plan and adds one, Hanna Shoal, that is a feeding ground for whales and seals.

Associated Press

McConnell fails in first bid to end Keystone debate

A cloture motion by Sen. Mitch McConnell to put the Keystone XL approval bill on track for passage by the Senate failed 53-39 Monday night, extending for now the increasingly partisan debate over the $8 billion project.

The majority fell short of the 60 needed to end open debate and potentially pass the bill as soon as this week. Just four Democrats voted for the motion, while eight senators did not vote.


Drilling plan may restrict sensitive Arctic Ocean areas

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The federal Department of the Interior will make additional areas of Arctic Ocean waters off-limits to drilling when it announces a new five-year offshore drilling plan, a member of the Alaska congressional delegation said Monday.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was briefed last week by federal officials who told her the Obama administration will permanently remove from consideration some areas that had previously been deferred from the federal leasing program.

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