FILE - In this April 17, 2015 file photo, an oil drilling rig arrives aboard a transport ship at sunrise, following a journey across the Pacific in Port Angeles, Wash. Royal Dutch Shell hopes to use the rig for exploratory drilling during the summer open-water season in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast, if it can get the permits. Royal Dutch Shell cleared a major hurdle Monday, May 11, 2015, when The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved Shell's exploration plan. However, this isn't the final step that Shell needs for Arctic drilling. (Daniella Beccaria/seattlepi.com via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; SEATTLE TIMES OUT; TV OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

FILE - In this April 17, 2015 file photo, an oil drilling rig arrives aboard a transport ship at sunrise, following a journey across the Pacific in Port Angeles, Wash. Royal Dutch Shell hopes to use the rig for exploratory drilling during the summer open-water season in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast, if it can get the permits. Royal Dutch Shell cleared a major hurdle Monday, May 11, 2015, when The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved Shell's exploration plan. However, this isn't the final step that Shell needs for Arctic drilling. (Daniella Beccaria/seattlepi.com via AP) MAGS OUT; NO SALES; SEATTLE TIMES OUT; TV OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Shell clears major US government hurdle for Arctic drilling

  • By Mark Thiessen
  • Monday, May 11, 2015 1:43pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling program has cleared a major bureaucratic hurdle to begin drilling for oil and gas off Alaska’s northwestern coast this summer.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Monday approved the multi-year exploration plan in the Chukchi Sea for Shell after reviewing thousands of comments from the public, Alaska Native organizations and state and federal agencies.

The approval came just days before a planned protest of the drilling program in Seattle.

Shell must still obtain other permits from state and federal agencies, including one to drill from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Both BOEM and BSEE are agencies of the U.S. Department of Interior. The company must also obtain government opinions that find Shell can comply with terms and conditions of the Endangered Species Act.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the approval “is an important milestone and signals the confidence regulators have in our plan. However, before operations can begin this summer, it’s imperative that the remainder of our permits be practical, and delivered in a timely manner.

“In the meantime, we will continue to test and prepare our contractors, assets and contingency plans against the high bar stakeholders and regulators expect of an Arctic operator,” Smith said in an email to The Associated Press.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s director, Abigail Ross Hopper, said in a statement that officials recognize “the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region” and have established “high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives.”

“As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards,” she said.

The Port of Seattle would need to get another permit to base the Arctic drilling fleet in Seattle for about six months of the year.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray last week said the port, a public agency, must obtain a new land-use permit from the city before Shell contractor, Foss Maritime, can use Terminal 5. Foss Maritime on Saturday said it planned to appeal to the Seattle Hearing Examiner in the next two weeks. Once filed, the examiner will set a hearing date and then issue a ruling.

Port commissioners are taking up the lease issue at a meeting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, activists plan to protest the movement of 400-foot drill ship Polar Pioneer from Port Angeles, Washington, to the Seattle port. A so-called “festival of resistance” starts Saturday and will include protesters on land and in kayaks, trying to block the ship’s movements.

“We respect the choice that anyone might make to protest based on Shell’s Arctic aspirations, we just ask that they do so safely and within the boundaries of the law,” Smith said.

Environmental groups on Monday blasted the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for providing the permit to Shell.

“This decision places big oil before people, putting the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line,” Erik Grafe, an attorney for Earthjustice, said in a statement. “The agency should not be approving such threatening plans based on a rushed and incomplete environmental and safety review. Ultimately, Arctic Ocean drilling is far too risky and undermines the administration’s efforts to address climate change and transition to a clean energy future.”

Shell’s drilling plan proposes to drill up to six wells within the Burger Prospect, located about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright, Alaska. The wells would be drilled in about 140 feet of water by the Polar Pioneer and the Noble Discoverer. Both vessels would provide relief-well capability for the other.

Shell has said the two ships will leave the Chukchi Sea at the end of each drilling season.

Arctic offshore reserves are estimated at 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

More in News

Nate Rochon cleans fish after dipnetting in the Kasilof River, on June 25, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
King closures continue; Kasilof dipnet opens Saturday

The early-run Kenai River king sport fishery remains closed, and fishing for kings of any size is prohibited

An "Al Gross for Congress" sign sits near the driveway to Gross’ home in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, after he announced plans to withdraw from the U.S. House race. Gross has given little explanation in two statements for why he is ending his campaign, and a woman who answered the door at the Gross home asked a reporter to leave the property. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska judge rules Sweeney won’t advance to special election

JUNEAU — A state court judge ruled Friday that Alaska elections officials… Continue reading

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion 
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen listens to a presentation from Alaska Communications during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska.
ACS pilots fiber program in certain peninsula neighborhoods

The fiber to the home service will make available the fastest internet home speeds on the peninsula

Nurse Tracy Silta draws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the walk-in clinic at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways in Soldotna, Alaska on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. COVID-19 vaccines for kids younger than 5 years old are now approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
COVID shots for kids under 5 available at public health

Roughly 18 million kids nationwide will now be eligible to get their COVID vaccines.

Megan Mitchell, left, and Nick McCoy protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade at the intersection of the Kenai Spur and Sterling highways on Friday, June 24, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Heartbroken’, ‘Betrayed’: Alaskans react to Roe decision

Supreme Court decision ends nearly 50 years of legally protected access to abortion

Demonstrators gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)
Alaskans react to Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade

The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion.

Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/ Mark Thiessen)
Lawsuit says Sweeney should advance in Alaska US House race

The lawsuit says the fifth-place finisher in the special primary, Republican Tara Sweeney, should be put on the August special election ballot

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker stands in the Peninsula Clarion office on Friday, May 6, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska AFL-CIO endorses Walker, Murkowski, Peltola

The AFL-CIO is Alaska’s largest labor organization and has historically been one of its most powerful political groups

A portion of a draft letter from Jeffrey Clark is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Federal agents search Trump-era official’s home, subpoena GOP leaders

Authorities on Wednesday searched the Virginia home of Jeffrey Clark

Most Read