Feds to propose Arctic drilling rule ‘shortly’

The federal agency in charge of safety and environmental regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration will propose long-awaited Arctic-specific drilling regulations “shortly,” its director said.

The rule from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) would address issues like spill containment readiness as they apply specifically to drilling off Alaska’s northern coast.

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“This forthcoming rule will put important safeguards in place for future Arctic drilling operations,” BSEE Director Brian Salerno said Tuesday in a post on his agency’s website. “We hope to release the proposed rule shortly and open it for public comment, continuing an important dialogue on drilling operations in the Arctic that has already included numerous consultations and public meetings.”

The rules will help the federal government and oil and gas drillers work to open Arctic waters to exploration. The oil industry believes those seas contain vast amounts of oil.

Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil have expressed interest in Arctic drilling. Lawmakers said last year that they do not believe that companies will have to wait until the rules are in place to drill. 

Salerno’s announcement came a day after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, complained that the Obama administration is not making Arctic energy development enough of a priority.