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Vol. 26, No.20 Week of May 16, 2021
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Moriarty: Interior scraps Trump’s new Arctic safety, enviro updates

Kay Cashman

Petroleum News

In the current administration’s “eagerness” to do away with Trump’s policies, politics have dictated what should be a scientific process, Kara Moriarty told Petroleum News regarding the U.S. Interior Department May 7 decision not to pursue the former administration’s proposal for changes in Arctic drilling rules offshore Alaska.

A May 7 statement from Interior said existing regulations released by the Obama administration in 2016 remain in effect and “are critical to ensuring adequate safety and environmental protections for this sensitive ecosystem and Alaska Native subsistence activities.”

Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, disagreed.

“The 2016 Arctic drilling rule was revised because much has been learned about operating safely in the Arctic over the last five years. The 2020 proposed revisions made substantial improvements over the original rule, including revisions to incorporate new technologies and modern drilling practices,” she explained.

“The 2020 rulemaking process also included additional input from tribal leaders, Alaska Native corporations, and other stakeholders.”

Interior’s decision “means those enhanced safety and environmental updates go away, and terms of the 2016 rule remain in place. Ironically, this decision does not benefit the environment as much as the 2020 rule. It is unfortunate that politics have taken over what should have been a purely scientific exercise,” Moriarty said.

Leah Donahey, Alaska Wilderness League legislative director, said the 2016 rules incorporated lessons learned from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

She also said there has not been a public push by companies showing interest in the offshore.

Conservation group Oceana said 37 exploratory wells have been drilled in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas since the 1970s; many on leases that have since expired.

Weighed in Russian interest

The changes proposed by the Trump administration were not finalized before Joe Biden was inaugurated. In November 2020 Interior said the purpose of the proposed revisions was “to remove unnecessary, burdensome provisions while ensuring that energy exploration on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf remains safe and environmentally responsible.”

“As countries like Russia increase their presence in the Arctic - including the use of U.S. technologies to develop their seabed resources, it is increasingly important to ensure that the United States has a strong presence in the Arctic OCS,” said then-Deputy Secretary of the Interior Kate MacGregor. “The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas have a long legacy of oil and gas development - we believe these proposed revisions will better harness new technological innovation and best science to allow for responsible domestic energy development off the coast of Alaska.”

Executive Order 13795, issued by Donald Trump in 2017, directed Interior to review the 2016 Arctic Exploratory and Drilling Rule and report recommendations.

Interior said the revision team included career subject matter experts and regulatory specialists who looked to additional research in the review, including a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement-commissioned technology assessment program study, National Petroleum Council reports and consultations with “leaders of more than 23 Alaska Native tribes, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporations and municipalities throughout Alaska.”

The Federal Register notice issued for the 2020 revisions said the 2016 rule was a response to BSEE- and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management-initiated environmental and safety reviews based on experience in the Arctic OCS “gained from Shell’s 2012 and 2015 Arctic operations.”

The notice also said the 2016 rule was “narrowly focused, applying solely to exploratory drilling operations conducted during the Arctic OCS open-water drilling season by drilling vessels and ‘jack-up rigs’ in the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea Planning Areas.”

The BSEE and BOEM review of the 2016 rule takes into account a congressional declaration in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that policies and procedures for managing oil and gas development in the OCS be “intended to result in expedited exploration and development of the Outer Continental Shelf in order to achieve national economic and energy policy goals, assure national security, reduce dependence on foreign sources, and maintain a favorable balance of payments in world trade.”

The bureaus also reviewed new information on technological developments in an ice environment.

- KAY CASHMAN (the Associated Press contributed to this story)

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