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Obama to outline new offshore oil drilling plans

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama today will announce a compromise to broadly open new areas off the U.S. coast to oil and natural gas drilling while protecting specific swaths, including Alaska's Bristol Bay.

The plan, to be announced at a late morning energy security event at Andrews Air Force Base may help Obama court bipartisan support for contentious climate change legislation but also could chafe environmental activists in states affected by expanded drilling.

A White House aide describing the details ahead of the announcement said that an upcoming Interior Department lease sale 50 miles off the Virginia coast would mark the first new offshore oil and gas sale in the Atlantic in more than two decades.

Drilling off the coast from the mid-Atlantic to the Southeast could be broadly expanded, pending further study. Drilling off the Florida coast would be subject to a minimum 125 mile distance. A previously scheduled lease sale in Alaska's Cook Inlet could go ahead, but Bristol Bay and pending lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, in North Alaska, will be canceled. No West Coast exploration is being announced.

"To set America on a path to energy independence, the President believes we must leverage our diverse domestic resources by pursuing a comprehensive energy strategy," said the aide who was not authorized to speak on the record ahead of the president's announcement.

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