ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Environmental groups say the Trump administration is rushing toward drilling in Arctic Ocean waters.

The groups reacted after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced it is soliciting expressions of interest for a 2019 lease sale in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea.

Environmental groups say a new five-year national leasing plan must be completed before any lease sale proceeds. A public comment period on the Beaufort leasing proposal started Thursday.

Arctic offshore sales were not included in a five-year drilling plan created under President Barack Obama.

The bureau’s Alaska region director, James Kendall, says the Beaufort Sea possesses great oil potential and the solicitation process will help identify areas that can be developed as well as areas that should be protected.

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