Six Senate Democrats Ask DOI to Delay New Lease Sales in Arctic Waters

As the race heats up for drilling in Arctic waters, several U.S. Senate members have requested the Interior Department to delay future oil and gas lease sales and permitting in the Arctic Ocean, including the proposed lease sale 237, until a thorough reevaluation of environmental risks is conducted.

Six Senate Democrats, with Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Dick Durbin of Illinois leading the charge, published an addressed letter to Secretary Sally Jewel to suspend plans to auction new leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northern coast in 2016, with Shell Oil Company being used as an example.

“The myriad problems faced last year by Shell Oil Company as it attempted to drill exploration wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas demonstrated the unpredictability, harsh conditions, and heightened potential for human error that characterize any industrial activity in the Arctic Ocean,” the letter stated. 

In September, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a 45-day call for information and nominations related to a possible lease sale offshore Alaska in 2016. The comment period was extended in November and closed Dec. 3.

It is estimated that the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea Planning Areas hold roughly 71.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent (Bboe) consisting of 42.5 Bboe of risked mean undiscovered resources and 28.8 Bboe of discovered estimated ultimate recovery (EUR), according to BOEM. These offshore areas are only sparsely explored and have seen very little development, yet are forecasted to offer an endowment of 45.7 Bboe consisting of 42.1 Bboe risked mean undiscovered resources and 3.6 Bboe of discovered EUR.

The possibility of exploring these waters has created substantial controversy and litigation, the Senate Democrats stated, but it is yet to be seen if this area will open up.

“The Department of lnterior’s proposals to allow drilling activity in the Arctic Ocean has generated significant controversy and litigation, with opposition from local communities, Members of Congress, scientists, the conservation community, and the American people,” the letter stated.


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