The US Department of the Interior (DOI) is reviewing Shell's Arctic drilling plans, according to a recent Reuters report.
On 31 March, DOI issued a record of decision affirming Shell’s Arctic leases from the Chukchi Sea OCS oil and gas lease sale 193 from 2008. The decision paved the way for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), part of DOI, to begin a formal review of Shell’s exploration plan. BOEM and other agencies, such as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), will need to review and approve activities before any exploration can occur.
Shell has spent US$1 billion preparing for its return to the Arctic this summer, following a two-year hiatus.
The original environmental impact statement (EIS) for lease sale 193 was published in 2007, but subsequent legal challenges and federal court decisions remanded the lease sale back to BOEM for further analysis, DOI said in March.
In response to the court remand, BOEM conducted additional analysis using available data to estimate the highest amount of production that could reasonably result from lease sale 193 and incorporated that information into a supplemental EIS (SEIS) that was published in February 2015. DOI issued its decision after studying the information compiled in the SEIS and analyzing all comments received. The department announced last November that the SEIS predicted a higher exploration and production scenario than the 2007 data suggested.
“Working closely with our partner agencies at the federal, state and local levels, our analysts brought to bear the best science available to produce a careful and robust analysis,” said Janice Schneider, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, who signed the record of decision.
Gearing up for Arctic exploration efforts, BOEM and BSEE released, in February, proposed regulations for exploratory drilling activities on the US Arctic OCS. The proposed rule seeks to address issues relating to design, development of an integrated operations plan, the ability to deploy source control and containment equipment, and procurement of – and the ability to deploy – a separate relief rig in the event of loss of well control situaiton, the ability to monitor and respond to ice conditions and other adverse weather events, the ability to effectively manage contractors, and the development and implementation of an oil spill response plan.
Shell might find it lonely in the Arctic. Other explorers such as Statoil, Chevron, and Russia's Rosneft have cancelled Arctic drilling programs for this year.
Image: Shell's oil spill response team in the Arctic.