Department of Interior Announces Arctic Lease Schedule

While the plan won’t come out for a few days, top brass at the Department of Interior held a conference call Tuesday to give a sneak peek.

There will be two lease sales in the Arctic Ocean off of Alaska; one for the Chuckchi Sea in 2016, the other for the Beufort Sea one year later. Those were both delayed one year from the plan released in November.

And of course, there’s this summer. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said while his department is still reviewing Shell’s permits, he remains optimistic the company will pass. It’s in the final review stages with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

“If Shell activities in the Arctic proceed this summer, BSEE will have an inspector on site 24 hours a day,” Salazar said. “Shell will also be required to have a full suite of response capabilities in the area, including a capping stack and a number of other containments, programs and systems.”

Shell tested its capping stack in Puget Sound Monday, and Secretary Salazar said he’s confident there will not be an oil spill in the Arctic. If he had concerns, he said he would not move forward.

The Department of the Interior is touting its leasing programs as “innovative.” Officials said leases will be targeted and locally tailored. For a lease to be granted, Interior weighs the value of the resource, possible environmental harm, and local concerns.

Tommy Beaudreau, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said that last reason is why there will not be drilling at one site off the North Slope near Barrow.

“We have taken the step at this point of deferring and removing an area north of Barrow that we know is important to subsistence,” he said. “This is consistent with the overall approach we’ll be taking with the Arctic.”

It’s unclear whether industry was looking to drill in that specific site, though.

The Department of Interior is extolling Arctic drilling as part of its “all of the above” energy approach that includes renewable and traditional fuel sources.

Perhaps to calm the concerns of some, Secretary Salazar said there have been more than thirty wells drilled in the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas already, and none has undergone the scrutiny that the current ones are receiving.