Senator Lisa Murkowski asks Interior chief to shield parts of Alaska from offshore drilling
Lisa Murkowski (Youtube)

Alaska's Republican senator said on Thursday she will ask Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to remove certain sensitive offshore areas of Alaska from his proposed strategy to increase oil and gas drilling in federal waters.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the Alaska congressional delegation is "really bullish and optimistic" about the oil and gas potential of the Arctic and the Cook inlet.

But she said they have concerns about more sensitive ecological areas in the Gulf of Alaska and in the Kawerak region in the Bering Straits.

"There are certain areas that we feel are not opportune for leasing and for development," Murkowski told reporters. "Let's focus on where the opportunity is good and there is interest and defined resource with limited obstacles.”

Zinke on Jan. 9 surprised the White House when he announced that he would keep Florida's coastline off limits from offshore drilling after speaking to its Republican Governor Rick Scott who opposed the plan.

Zinke was accused of political favoritism and helping Scott, who is expected to run for a Senate seat in 2018.

The surprise announcement led both Democratic and Republican governors and lawmakers in coastal states who also oppose offshore drilling to ask Zinke for similar exemptions.

Murkowski said she expects Zinke to respond to congressional requests.

“He will take things off just as he took Florida off and as he will be taking other matters off as the process moves forward,” she said.

The Trump administration has proposed opening up nearly all of America’s offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, but the oil and gas industry says it is mainly interested in one part of it, the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)