Former Interior official: Don't extend Arctic drilling schedule

The Interior Department should resist calls to expand the drilling season in Arctic waters off the Alaskan coast, a former Interior official said Friday.

Drilling plans in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas were composed on a “historical timeline” and based on “reason and fact,” Michael Bromwich, the attorney who led an overhaul of Interior’s deepwater drilling oversight following the 2010 BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, said Friday. He was speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last week floated the idea of extending the exploration period off Alaska’s coast.

Royal Dutch Shell’s federally approved drilling plan requires the firm to end drilling in the Chukchi Sea 38 days before ice reappears in the drilling zone. That would force Shell to exit the region by mid-September. Currently, Shell is still waiting for sea ice to clear before it can start drilling there.

Murkowski said Interior should be more flexible if estimates about ice conditions change.

Bromwich said Alaskans “know of the dangers” from lingering in those waters too long. He urged Interior to exercise caution about changing its schedule.

Steve LeVine, a contributing editor with Foreign Policy magazine and a fellow with the New America Foundation, said Interior might feel pressure to act because of Russia’s aggressive moves in the Arctic. He added that Total, StatOil and ExxonMobil each got contracts for drilling in that area in the past six to eight months.

Still, LeVine qualified his statement by noting that the most optimistic projections say the first oil to come to market from that region won’t arrive until 2030.