The Energy Bill working its way through a US Senate Committee could, if adopted unchanged, give oil producers an extra decade to work on their Arctic leases, much to the chagrin of environmental groups.
Republican Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski, one of the principal movers of the bill, included in it this provision for possible lease extensions.
The bill features other producer-friendly proposals, including lifting the US crude export ban and expanding offshore drilling.
Companies with Arctic leases – notably Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil – had been asking for more time to develop their oil and gas leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska.
The law as it now stands allows the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) limited powers to issue “suspensions of operations” in special circumstances, which effectively extend leases, but it’s an unwieldy process.
The new bill would empower the Interior secretary to extend the initial term of federal leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to 20 years – expanding the lease time.
As things stand, the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea leases would begin expiring in 2017 and 2018.
Environmentalists characterise the proposal to authorise extended leases as favouring big oil over the environment and the people.