After thorough environmental analysis and substantial opportunity for public input, the Department of the Interior on Wednesday issued a Record of Decision affirming Chukchi Sea OCS Oil and Gas Lease Sale 193 and the remaining oil and gas leases issued in 2008 as a result of the sale.
“The Arctic is an important component of the Administration’s national energy strategy, and we remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration offshore Alaska,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “This unique, sensitive and often challenging environment requires effective oversight to ensure all activities are conducted safely and responsibly.”
Now that the Record of Decision is issued, BOEM may begin formal review of a company’s exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea, which includes public engagement and additional environmental analyses. BOEM, BSEE and other Federal agencies will need to review and approve activities before any exploration activity can occur.
The original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Lease Sale 193 was published in 2007 but subsequent legal challenges and federal court decisions remanded the lease sale back to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for further analysis. The most recent court decision, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, specifically addressed BOEM’s estimates of production levels from OCS oil fields that might be discovered in the Chukchi Sea.
In response to the court remand, BOEM conducted additional analysis using the best available data to estimate the highest amount of production that could reasonably result from Lease Sale 193 and incorporated that information into a Supplemental EIS (SEIS) that was published in February 2015. The Department issued today’s decision after studying the information compiled in the SEIS and analyzing all comments received.
“Working closely with our partner agencies at the federal, state and local levels, our analysts brought to bear the best science available to produce a careful and robust analysis,” said Janice Schneider, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, who signed the Record of Decision.
Upon the Ninth Circuit court remand in January 2014, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement suspended all leases issued via Lease Sale 193. Those suspensions have now been lifted.
“I am very grateful for the work that BOEM professionals put into this extensive analysis, and for the input we received from our stakeholders throughout the entire process,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper.
In February, the Interior Department released proposed regulations to ensure that future exploratory drilling activities on the U.S. Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) are done safely and responsibly, subject to strong and proven operational standards. Using a combination of performance-based and prescriptive standards, the proposed regulations codify and further develop current Arctic-specific operational standards that seek to ensure that operators take the necessary steps to plan through all phases of offshore exploration in the Arctic, including mobilization, drilling, maritime transport and emergency response, and conduct safe drilling operations while in the region.