Interior takes step toward resuming Arctic exploration

Royal Dutch Shell may be able to resume Arctic oil and gas exploration if the Interior Department sticks to the timeline it filed to the U.S. District Court of Alaska.

In a fling made Friday, Interior set a timeline for conducting a new environmental analysis for the exploration leases in the Arctic waters off Alaska.

A federal appeals court found Interior's first review was flawed after it sold $2.7 billion in oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea back in 2008.  Green groups cheered the win, stating their desire to stop all exploration in the Arctic.

The timeline calls for the publication of a draft report by October and a final decision in spring of 2015, putting Interior on track to allow companies, like Shell, to resume exploration.

“The timeline filed today by the Interior Department is a positive step. Under the terms proposed to the court, it appears possible that Interior will complete the court-ordered supplemental assessment in time for Shell to resume exploration next summer,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Still, Murkowski said the administration must do more.

“However, this is only part of what the administration must do in the coming months to ensure an exploration season in the Chukchi Sea next summer. I am still waiting for the administration to make a genuine commitment to Arctic development – and to provide much-needed regulatory and permitting predictability," she added.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement under Interior has said it will propose long-awaited drilling regulations for the Arctic "shortly."