U.S. Senator Mark Begich welcomed an effort today by the federal Department of Interior to put Shell’s oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic waters back on track after an environmental lawsuit side-tracked them last year.
In a legal filing today with the federal judge in the case, Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) outlined a new schedule which calls for completion of an Environmental Impact Statement on the development which could have Shell exploring for oil and gas during the 2015 season.
“It was unfortunate yet another lawsuit last year threw a roadblock in Shell’s planned oil and gas exploration in the Chucki Sea,” Begich said. “I’ve been aggressively pushing federal regulators to get this development back on track and am cautiously optimistic their new schedule will put drill bits back into these promising offshore reserves next summer.”
At issue is Shell’s plans to develop its leases in Alaska’s Arctic waters. In January, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halted that development in Lease Sale 193 when several environmental groups filed suit, claiming DOI under-estimated the amount of oil which could be produced.
In today’s filing with U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline, Interior says it is moving expeditiously to get Shell back to work. It proposes to publish a new draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) by early October 2014, give the public 45 days for comment and for government-to-government consultations with Native entities and publish a final SEIS in early February 2015. After a mandatory 30-day waiting period, Shell is scheduled to receive a final Record of Decision by March 2015, allowing the company to get back to work.
This process would clear the way for development of an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas projected to lie beneath Alaska’s shallow Arctic waters. Shell bid more than $2.6 billion for the development back in 2008.
Begich has been aggressively pushing the Obama administration to proceed with Alaska oil and gas development in the Arctic, talking recently with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to urge progress. Begich has introduced legislation to ensure a judicial endgame for Arctic developers which have invested billions of dollars for oil and gas development. The senator also is urging Interior to extend oil company leases because of unexpected delays cause in part by environmental lawsuits.