The question of whether Statoil will be able to carry out its planned Chukchi Sea seismic surveys in 2010 still hangs in the balance, with continuing uncertainty over the scope of a federal court injunction over activities associated with the U.S. Minerals Management Service 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale. In response to an appeal challenging the sale, an Alaska District Court judge has banned actions associated with leases purchased in the lease sale, pending a U.S. Department of the Interior rework of some aspects of the environmental impact statement for the sale.
Statoil plans to carry out seismic surveys over some of its leases purchased in the 2008 sale, and in adjoining areas of the Chukchi Sea. And, although these surveys are done under the terms of a DOI geology and geophysical exploration permit rather than under an oil and gas lease, Statoil has said that uncertainty following the court injunction is delaying both the issue of the g&g permit and the National Marine Fisheries Service incidental harassment authorization that the company needs.
And the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, the recently formed successor agency to MMS, has said that it will not issue the g&g permit without clarification from the court on whether Statoilís planned activities fall within the scope of the injunction.
On July 30 Statoil requested clarification of the situation from the court by , saying that if the company does not obtain the two remaining permits by Aug. 6 it will likely have to cancel its 2010 seismic program. And, also on July 30, BOEM filed a motion with the court, asking for expedited consideration of the clarification request.
On Aug. 2 the court declined the request for an expedited clarification.
But, also on Aug. 2, the court did respond to a parallel request from Shell for clarification over that companyís planned 2010 Chukchi Sea activities. Following the imposition of a DOI Arctic outer continental shelf drilling moratorium, Shell has had to cancel its planned 2010 Chukchi and Beaufort sea drilling programs. However, the company has been planning to continue with some Chukchi Sea environmental studies, geotechnical surveys and shallow hazard surveys during the 2010 open water season. In its Aug. 2 ruling the court agreed that Shellís 2010 activities fall outside the scope of the injunction and can continue.
See story in Aug. 8 issue, available to subscribers online at noon, Friday, Aug. 6, at www.PetroleumNews.com