Shell seeks five more years to drill for oil in Arctic

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is pressing the Interior Department to give it an additional five years to scour for oil in Arctic waters near Alaska.

In a letter to Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) dated July 14, Shell says an extension should be approved because legal disputes, seasonal drilling restrictions, and more challenges justify it.

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The July letter was obtained by the environmental group Oceana through a Freedom of Information Act request, and released late Monday.

The oil company argues that “circumstances beyond Shell’s control” will “thwart” its ability to “exercise its lease rights and proceed with exploration and development before most of those leases expire,” Shell executive Peter Slaiby said in the letter.

“Prudent exploration is now severely challenged prior to the current lease expiration dates . . . due to the repeated erected barriers to exploratory activities, the already severe disruption to Shell’s exploratory efforts, limited rig availability, brief operating windows and the unusually long lead times required to mobilize activities in Alaska,” Slaiby explains in the letter.

Without the extension, Shell’s oil and gas lease will expire in 2017 for the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Shell’s last attempt at drilling in the Chukchi was foiled by mishaps that included the grounding its drilling unit after a damaging tow across the Gulf of Alaska.

Shell is working to resume exploration operations in the Chukchi Sea next year.  So far, Shell has spent roughly $6 billion in the Arctic.

Oceana slammed the oil company for trying to “skirt rules” by requesting more time in the harsh Arctic to search for oil.

“Though this letter is somewhat shocking in its tone and request, we are, unfortunately, no longer capable of being surprised by either Shell’s efforts to skirt rules or the company’s inability to recognize its own role in failing to complete planned exploration activities in Arctic waters,” said Susan Murray, Oceans’a deputy vice president.

“Shell spent billions of dollars fully aware of the risks to that investment, and the government should not bend the rules to allow the company to continue business as usual.”