Trump Administration Approves Oil Project In Arctic Waters
The Trump administration is continuing a program of energy development on Alaska’s North Slope, with the Interior Department approving new drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved an application by the Italian company Eni to drill in the Beaufort Sea.
The site is 100 miles west of the Alaska wildlife refuge, which a provision in the current Senate Republican tax bill would open for drilling. The executive branch doesn’t require congressional approval for Eni’s Arctic drilling, which could begin this month.
Last year Eni—as we as Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Iona Energy—relinquished all but one of their offshore drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea, west of the Beaufort.
Experts question the economic viability of drilling for oil in the Arctic, where the annual advance and retreat of sea ice makes cleanups from a spill problematic.
“The Trump administration is risking a major oil spill by letting this foreign corporation drill in the unforgiving waters off Alaska,” Kristen Monsell, oceans program litigation director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Washington Post.
BSEE Director Scott Angelle said the move puts the US a step closer toward achieving the Trump administration’s goal of “American energy dominance.”
The bureau’s approval allows Eni to move forward with new exploration in federal waters, but only, noted Mark Fesmire, BSEE Alaska Region director, after a review by BSEE Alaska Region personnel to ensure the request met technical adequacy, safety and environmental sustainability standards.
“BSEE Alaska Region staff conducted a thorough and complete review of Eni’s well design, testing procedures and safety protocol,” said Fesmire. “Exploration must be conducted safely, and responsibly in relation to the Arctic environment and we will continue to engage Eni as they move forward with drilling its exploratory well.”
Former President Barack Obama banned new offshore leasing in much of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas at the end of his second term. The Trump administration has been working to reverse that action and other rules with the idea of boosting US fossil fuel exports.
Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review Obama’s five-year offshore leasing plan and revoked the Arctic and Atlantic offshore drilling bans. Environmental groups have sued Trump over those actions. Eni will drill in a section of the Beaufort Sea not encompassed by Obama’s ban. The company estimates new production of 20,000 barrels of oil per day.
The Houston-based company Hilcorp has also been seeking approval for an offshore drilling proposals.
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