Interior Department greenlights Arctic offshore drilling for 1st time

The U.S. Department of the Interior has approved conditional permits for what is expected to become the first oil and gas production facility in federal waters.

“Responsibly developing our resources, in Alaska especially, will allow us to use our energy diplomatically to aid our allies and check our adversaries,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement announcing the issuing of permits.

On Wednesday, regulators with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reported it had issued conditional approval to Hilcorp Energy Co. to pursue its planned Liberty Project in the Alaskan Arctic.

A Houston-based energy firm, Hilcorp’s map for Liberty Project calls for the construction of an artificial gravel island and placement of 16 wells approximately six miles offshore of Prudhoe Bay.

The proposal also involves the construction of an underground pipeline to move oil to shore.

An area which Hilcorp says could hold as many as 150 million barrels of oil, engineers with the firm estimate the drilling at full capacity will produce between 60,000 and 70,000 barrels a day.

Four similar artificial islands built to produce oil and gas currently operate nearby in Alaskan state waters.

A conditional approval, the license to drill stipulates oil and gas exploration and extraction may only occur on frozen ice.

Furthermore, drilling operations are to be restricted during seasons in which whaling feeding and wildlife activity reaches a peak.

A reversal to Obama-era regulation and executive orders prohibiting offshore drilling in the Arctic, the move immediately generated controversy, as many conservation groups oppose drilling rights over concern for wildlife and potential damage to the ecosystem.

“Opening the Arctic to offshore oil drilling is a disaster waiting to happen.  This project sets us down a dangerous path of destroying the Arctic. An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up and the region is already stressed by climate change,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving America’s wilderness.

Specifically, the Center cited a Hilcorp gas line that leaked from December 2016 to April 2017 in Alaska’s Cook Inlet due to the presence of sea ice which prevented its immediate repair.

The approval for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Arctic follows the Trump administration’s April decision to explore the possibilities for drilling in 1.6 million acres of coastal plain the drilling in the Alaska’a Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


[AP] [The Hill] [Photo courtesy Liberty Project]