US offshore leasing plan expected to omit Arctic waters

Numerous news outlets reported on Wednesday that US President Barack Obama’s upcoming five-year plan for offshore leasing will omit rights sales for Arctic waters.

The 2017-2022 plan according to unnamed sources in the reports, will remove the Arctic from the leasing picture. There had been some speculation as to whether or not the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea – the US part of the Arctic near Alaska – would be included.

The five-year plan lays out all proposed auctions for drilling rights on the Outer Continental Shelf. It is expected the final version of the plan will be revealed in coming days, possibly on Thursday.

In March this year the Obama administration did a U-turn on new drilling leases in the US Atlantic, ruling them out after initially proposing opening 104m acres to lease off the east coast.

Only a few months ago it seemed the Department of the Interior was considering selling leases for the Beaufort Sea in 2020 and the Chukchi Sea in 2022. Now it appears they are non-starters.

The incoming administration of President-Elect Donald Trump is expected to be friendly to the energy industry and would probably overturn the Obama five-year plan. But experts say that could be a slow-moving process, taking many months or several years to draft and implement a new plan.

Earlier this week environmental pressure groups had called on President Obama to use executive authority to invoke a provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently ban offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic.

Even without the block on new leases, US Arctic offshore activity has been very quiet, especially since Shell withdrew from E&P activity in the Chukchi Sea in September 2015 after disappointing results.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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