Proponents of expanding drilling in US waters are losing ground. According to an article published in the Associated Press on Sept. 21, opponents of offshore drilling (including some dressed as salmon and a polar bear) made a final effort on the last day for public comment to oppose a plan that opens formerly restricted offshore areas to oil and gas drilling. Protesters delivered more than 250,000 postcards and letters to the US Interior Department to oppose opening areas off the country’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts. The area covered by the proposed five-year plan includes parts of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska’s northern coast (areas that are home to polar bears, whales, seals, and walruses) and includes the Bristol Bay watershed, which is home to the world’s most productive wild salmon streams. Drilling was banned in most of the offshore areas of the US outside the Gulf of Mexico for more than 20 years until Congress allowed the ban to expire last year. A Reuters report says under President Barack Obama, the Interior Department extended the comment period for the draft drilling plan by 180 days. During that time, the department held hearings across the country to gather public input (or was that to stoke the fires of dissent?) about the proposal. Reuters journalist Ayesha Rascoe reported that the final day of public comment saw environmental and pro-drilling advocates pitching dueling messages about expanded offshore oil and natural gas production. According to Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, however, there was only one side to this issue, not two. The Associated Press story quotes Shogan as saying, "The American public has unequivocally said that Bush’s aggressive plan for oil and gas development has no place in America’s Arctic and Bristol Bay." "Unequivocally?" Really? Interesting word choice, particularly since there was considerable opposition present on Monday. The Reuters article reports the Institute for Energy Research submitted more than 13,000 comments in support of the offshore plan – a plan institute spokeswoman Laura Henderson claims was done diligently and correctly. "Now they’ve delayed it (the plan)," she said, "which is in effect a de facto ban." The American Petroleum Institute also weighed in, according to Reuters, with API President Jack Gerard expressing the need to end delays in opening new offshore areas to drilling. "(The administration) must act now to ensure that America has the energy it needs today and in the future." Despite supporters’ calls for immediate action, Secretary Salazar indicated his department would not release its proposals for a new plan immediately. The intent is to release it sometime in the next several months. In fact, according to the Associated Press, Salazar has said he is uncertain whether he will seek to put a new five-year drilling plan in place before the existing leasing program runs out in 2012. And while government dithers and delays, the estimated 86 Bbbl of oil and 420 Tcf of natural gas that is yet to be discovered in banned areas remains untapped.