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Politics and PR campaigns continue to swirl around Alaska oil drilling

Patti Epler

Taking a page from oil industry's political play book, more than a dozen national environmental organizations are launching a year-long advertising and public relations campaign aimed at stopping oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

The "United for America's Arctic" campaign started today with a new website and a full-page ad in Politico.

In a press release, the umbrella group said over the next year it will "use a combination of media and grassroots to raise awareness about our imperiled Arctic waters and the wildlife and people who depend on them." The group says it will end the campaign on July 4, 2012 with a celebration of "independence" -- the Arctic Ocean's freedom from drilling.

The campaign is starting as Shell Oil Co., ConocoPhillips and Statoil are in various stages of seeking federal approval to conduct exploratory drilling operations in the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf. Shell is the most advanced, with permit applications in to the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency to drill up to 10 wells in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas beginning in summer 2012 and continuing in summer 2013.

Shell has been thwarted by lawsuits and permit appeals brought by conservation organizations and some Native groups. Last fall, shortly after hang-ups with permits forced the company to abandon drilling plans for this summer, Shell was the one taking out ads in national newspapers and magazines aimed at building political support for its offshore ventures.

This year, several congressmen and senators have introduced measures that would force quicker turnarounds on permit decisions, a situation that environmental groups say undermines federal regulators' ability to make sound decisions. EPA recently issued draft air permits for the Chukchi and Beaufort, and several other drilling permits are in the works. Shell says it needs some sort of green light by early October or it will have to pull the plug again on next summer's plans.

And while Shell and others continue to work the political angles, at least one company is taking a less transparent route. Bering Exploration is advertising for "Editors" for a new initiative called "The Truth About Oil" that will utilize blog posts and press releases to convince people "that it is time to end our dependence on foreign and offshore oil."

"We are looking for a team of Editors that exhibit our passion regarding environmental practices and ending dependence on foreign oil," it says in a job posting on craigslist.org in Anchorage. The company promises to pay up $19 to $23 for each 500-word blog.

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com.