The Department of the Interior today issued a record of decision, upholding the 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale in which Shell, ConocoPhillips, Statoil and other companies purchased leases. The decision, coming as the consequence of a rework of the supplemental environmental impact statement for the sale, following a federal court decision in an appeal against the sale, will enable the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to review Shell's latest Chukchi Sea exploration plan. Shell plans to resume its program of Chukchi Sea exploration drilling this summer, but requires a number of permits and an approved exploration plan in order to proceed with the program.
"The Arctic remains an important component of the administration's national energy strategy," said Janice Schneider, Department of the Interior assistant secretary for land and minerals management, the official who signed the record of decision. "The Chukchi Sea has enormous oil and gas potential and is home to a unique and sensitive ecosystem and Alaska Native communities that rely on the Chukchi Sea for subsistence. With today's decision, we remain committed to balancing potential oil and gas development with protecting sensitive resources."
In the appeal against the lease sale, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had ruled that Interior had understated the potential scale of Chukchi Sea oil development when conducting an evaluation of the potential environmental impacts of the sale. The federal District Court in Alaska subsequently ordered Interior to rework the supplemental environmental impact statement, to correct the deficiency specified by the 9th Circuit Court.
BOEM published a final version of the supplemental environmental impact statement on Feb. 12. The record of decision follows a mandatory 30-day waiting period, after publication of the environmental document in the Federal register on Feb. 20.
"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," Schneider said. "I am very grateful for their work, and for the input we received from our stakeholders throughout the entire process."
- ALAN BAILEY
See story in April 5 issue, available online Friday, April 3 at www.PetroleumNews.com