Alaska’s U.S. Senator Mark Begich welcomed yesterday’s order by a federal judge in the latest lawsuit over Shell Oil Company’s plans to develop oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic waters which sets in place a process for resumption of that development.
U.S. Federal District Court Judge Ralph Beistline yesterday entered his order on the Lease Sale 193 case, agreeing with the federal government and Shell that the Department of Interior can proceed to review and process Exploration Plans. According to a press release on Begich’s official website the order clears the way for next summer’s development of an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas projected to lie beneath Alaska’s shallow Arctic waters.
“This is good news for Alaskans and for our state’s economy because it ends the temporary shutdown of Shell’s development plans and should lead to resumption of oil and gas development in our state’s promising offshore,” Begich said. “This lawsuit was just another delaying tactic by those who oppose responsible development in Alaska, so Alaskans should be relieved that we’re now getting on with the business we know how to do so well.”
According to the court document however, the Department of Interior, despite being authorised to receive, review and process Arctic exploration plans from oil companies, it is still not allowed to approve or “deem submitted” any proposed exploration plans for Sale 193 leases. Further, The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM)will be allowed to continue to process routine agency paperwork, including lease assignments and relinquishments.
Lease Sale 193, held in February 2008, was contested in the District Court. In 2010, the Court remanded the sale to the Department to address specific concerns related to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis conducted prior to the sale.
At issue is the proposal by Shell Offshore Inc. to explore for oil and gas in Lease Sale 193 in the Chukchi Sea. Held in February 2008, Lease Sale 193 attracted more than $2.6 billion in bids and was the first such sale in the Chukchi in 15 years.
Begich has been pushing the Obama administration to proceed with Alaska oil and gas development in the Arctic, talking recently with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to urge progress. Begich has introduced legislation to ensure a judicial endgame for Arctic developers which have invested billions of dollars for oil and gas development. The senator also is urging Interior to extend oil company leases because of unexpected delays cause in part by environmental lawsuits.