Offshore drilling in the Arctic

  1. Two sides- one from today and the other from the NYtimes in November

    No further impact studies needed in Beaufort Sea, court rules
    By R.A. Dillon
    Staff Writer
    Published January 15, 2008

    A U.S. District Court in Anchorage last week ruled the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service had done an adequate job of assessing the environmental risk posed by oil development when it held an offshore lease sale in April for acreage in the Beaufort Sea.
    The North Slope Borough and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission had sought to nullify the lease sale in court, claiming the MMS failed to adequately assess the cumulative impacts of development on the region.
    The plaintiffs asked the court to rescind the leases until the MMS conducted a supplemental environmental impact statement, or EIS.
    On Jan. 8, the court ruled that the MMS’s decision process, which involved the use of an environmental assessment in conjunction with an environmental impact statement done in 2003, was sufficient.
    “We’re happy to see that the court agrees with us that we’ve done the environmental work we’re supposed to do,” said MMS spokesman Gary Strausberg.
    North Slope Inupiat subsistence hunters opposed the sale out of concern that development off the state’s northern coast could disturb polar bears, bowhead whales, walruses and other marine mammals.
    The plaintiffs objected to the fact that it was the third lease sale the MMS had conducted in the area based on a single environmental impact statement. Furthermore, the borough and commission argued that the original study, done in 2003, did not consider the cumulative affects of climate change.
    “The information that was used in the EIS was at least five years old and a lot has happened since then in regards to climate change and its impact on the environment,” said David Harding, spokesman for the North Slope Borough.
    Harding called the court’s decision “disappointing.” The borough has not decided whether it will appeal.
    A spokeswoman for the whaling commission did not return a call for comment in time for this story.
    The April 18 lease sale excluded offshore areas near Barrow and Kaktovik in an effort to accommodate subsistence whalers, MMS officials said. Under the terms of the leases, offshore oil and gas activity must be coordinated with local whalers during the spring and fall hunting seasons to minimize potential conflicts.
    Some 90 offshore blocks, covering 8.7 million acres, were auctioned off during the sale, bringing in $42.3 million. It was the 10th time the MMS has held a lease sale in the Beaufort Sea.
    Dutch oil giant Shell was the biggest bidder, submitting 49 bids covering 282,240 acres for a total of $39 million. The highest single bid was $14.1 million, submitted by Shell, for the Flaxman Island acreage northwest of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
    French major Total was the second highest bidder, paying $2.2 million for 32 leases.
    The sale covered offshore areas between three and 60 miles from Alaska’s northern coast, extending from the Canadian border on the east to near Barrow on the west. The region is located in water depths from 33 feet to 2,970 feet, though the majority of the leases is in water of less than 330 feet.
    “We are pleased the court agrees that the EIS is adequate and we look forward to further evaluating the leases we acquired in April,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith.
    The sale brought to 179 the number of Beaufort Sea offshore leases in which Shell holds an equity stake.
    Shell is still waiting to hear whether it can restart its $200 million, three-year plan to explore its Beaufort leases by drilling up to 12 exploratory wells.
    In August, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sidetracked Shell’s plans following a separate challenge by the borough and the commission, which were joined by environmental groups. This time the plaintiffs argued that the MMS failed to consider the potential impacts of industrial noise and spills associated with exploration when it approved Shell’s exploration plan.
    The court ordered Shell to put its exploration plans on hold until the case could be resolved. The company estimates the delay has so far cost about $100 million.
    Shell is moving forward this winter with plans to evaluate some of its leases by shooting seismic through the ice in an effort to reduce environmental concerns.
    MMS estimates the Beaufort Sea contains about 8 billion barrels of oil and 28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The MMS is planning another lease sale in the Beaufort in 2009.
    Contact Washington correspondent R.A. Dillon at

    NYTimes Picture narrative (5 min)

    A Dilemma in the Arctic
  2. We are the ONLY country in the world who is not drilling for oil anywhere you can find it. I'll remember the 9th Circuit Court the next time I fill up with $3/gallon gas. Thanks guys.