January 31, 2012

Events from Around Town: Offshore Oil & Gas in the Arctic - The Next Five Years

Last Thursday the Environmental
Law Institute (ELI)
hosted a panel on “Offshore Oil & Gas in the
Arctic: The Next Five Years.”   The event
was focused on planned lease sales by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
(BOEM) for the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas in the coming five years.   BOEM is one of three new agencies created
within the Department of Interior to replace the former Minerals Management
Service.  BOEM is responsible for
developing and managing the nation’s offshore energy resources, including the
leasing of oil and gas blocks on the outer continental shelf.  In November 2011, BOEM published its Draft 2012-2017 Oil and Gas Leasing Program
requesting comments from the public.  Read
the notice here.  The comment period closes February 8,
2012.  Though the ELI program focused on
the Arctic - the area likely to draw the most intense comments - the draft
covers all proposed U.S. offshore lease sales through 2017.   The proposed lease sale dates off Alaska’s
coast are 2013 for the Cook Inlet, 2015 for the Beaufort Sea and 2016 for the
Chukchi Sea.  You can view the draft in
its entirety as well several other related documents here

Among the key thoughts I took away were that the later dates
for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas locations reflect a desire to continue to
study the region as well as to afford the opportunity to learn from the
drilling slated to occur in these areas in 2012.  These leases present significant challenges
such as the remoteness of the locations, the lack of supporting infrastructure
close by and challenges in conducting spill response in this harsh environment.  However, the leases are located in much
shallower water than the deepwater drilling currently occurring in the Gulf of

This is important because while
the logistical burdens may be greater in the Arctic, the drilling technology
required is less complicated because the well pressures are anticipated to be
less in the shallower water.  All the
federal and state agencies involved need to continue to take into account the
concerns of the local communities and organizations which are unique to Alaska.  Actions should be coordinated where at all
possible.  Not surprisingly, not everyone
favors additional lease sales in the region. 
Some experts urge additional scientific studies should be conducted
first.  While BOEM has proposed some
limited deferral areas within both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, some argued
for much larger deferral areas to protect areas of environmental and cultural
significance.  The drilling industry
acknowledges a number of challenges that they face, but argue it can still be
done safely and responsibly.

To learn more about the event and to see presentations from
the panelists click here.

Finally if you have any interest in offshore energy
development or the Arctic, I encourage you to skim BOEM's
draft leasing program.
  It’s full of
interesting facts, tables and charts.  Take
advantage of your opportunity to submit comments before it closes.  

Commander Shannon
Gilreath is the Senior Coast Guard Fellow at the Center for a New American
Security. The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do
not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Coast Guard, Department
of Homeland Security or the U.S. Government.