The U.S. Department of the Interior has removed the Alaska Arctic outer continental shelf from the final version of its new five-year OCS oil and gas lease sale plan. The agency's draft version of the plan had included one lease sale each in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, but those lease sales are now off the table. Interior has also decided not to offer lease sales off the Atlantic coast.
"Considering the fragile and unique Arctic ecosystem and the recent demonstrated decline in industry interest, the proposed final program does not include any lease sales in the Chukchi or Beaufort seas," Interior said in a press release issued today. "Based on consideration of the best available science and significant public input, the department's analysis identified significant risks to sensitive marine resources and communities from potential new leasing in the Arctic. Moreover, due to the high costs associated with exploration and development in the Arctic and the foreseeable low projected oil prices environment, demonstrated industry interest in new leasing currently is low."
Gov. Bill Walker has expressed his disappointment at Interior's decision.
"Alaska supports a plan that balances subsistence concerns with our need for economic development," Walker said. "There is enough opportunity and protection in the plan that it should have been an easy decision to move forward with our proposal. The state nominated the Beaufort and Chukchi seas to ensure Alaskans' interests were protected in this process. The nominations provided subsistence protection, as well as the benefits under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). With the trans-Alaska pipeline three-quarters empty, we must spur more oil production. When Alaska became a state, the federal government mandated that we live off of our resources - but we must be able to access them."
And the Alaska congressional delegation has slammed the decision.
"President Obama is well aware that the vast majority of Alaskans want OCS development, and I am infuriated that he has once again ignored our voices to side with the factions who oppose it," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. "We have shown that Arctic development is one of the best ways to create jobs, generate revenues, and refill the trans-Alaska pipeline. Why the president is willing to send all of those benefits overseas is beyond explanation."
- ALAN BAILEY
See story in Nov. 27 issue, available Friday, Nov. 25 at www.PetroleumNews.com