Salazar hears debate on offshore drilling during Alaska trip

Gov. Sarah Palin told the new secretary of Interior on Tuesday that Alaska needs new offshore oil and gas development or risks an early shutdown of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

"Once that line shuts down, it will mean the end of oil production on the North Slope," Palin said, adding that plans for a new pipeline to carry natural gas to Lower 48 markets are at stake, too.

But at the same meeting in downtown Anchorage, skeptical fishermen raised the spectre of the Exxon Valdez oil spill as an example of the dangers of development. The mayor of the North Slope Borough said new oil and gas projects in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas aren't worth the risk.

"That's because spill response (is) virtually impossible in Arctic waters," said Mayor Edward Itta.

This is the battle for the future of oil and gas development in Alaska. It hit the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center on Tuesday morning, as U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made his second stop in Alaska to hear whether oil and gas development off the state's coast is a good idea.

The faces in the crowd told you it was a heavyweight bout.

Along with Palin, all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation weighed in. So did oil industry executives, environmental groups and regional leaders.

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