Feds increase Arctic oil estimates in move to appease court

The Obama administration increased its estimates on Friday for the amount of oil that is recoverable from Arctic drilling leases sold to oil companies in 2008.

The move, which nearly quadruples the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) initial estimates, is in response to a court decision in January, which ruled the administration issued an unsound environmental review of the 2008 drilling leases.


The leases in questions were sold to companies who wanted to drill in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea.

The BOEM’s 2008 environmental analysis based its findings off of a 1 billion barrels of oil benchmark, which the court called “arbitrary and capricious” because the amount of economically recoverable oil from the Chukchi Sea could reach up to 12 billion barrels.

Under it’s new environmental analysis, mandated by the court, the bureau proposes a new estimate of 4.3 billion barrels of oil.

Due to the increased estimate in recoverable oil, the bureau’s analysis also changed its projections on the chances of oil spills.

“There is a 75 percent chance of one or more large spills occurring,” the draft report states.

A large spill would mean more than 1,000 barrels of oil. The administration said six years ago at the time of the lease sales that there was a 40 percent chance of a large spill occurring.

The findings provided ammunition to green groups, who said the new analysis “confirms” that “drilling in the Chukchi Sea puts Arctic people and wildlife at risk from major oil spills.”

“It also puts the climate at risk. Drilling for more oil in the rapidly melting Arctic Ocean adds climate insult to climate injury,” said Erik Grafe, staff attorney with Earthjustice.

Proponents of Arctic oil and gas drilling like Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP torpedoes election bill; infrastructure talks hit snag White House digs in as infrastructure talks stall Schumer vows next steps after 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE saw it differently.

Murkowski called the updated environmental report “good news.”

“Hopefully this will satisfy the court and allow responsible drilling to resume next summer,” Murkowski said.

“There’s already been some slippage in the timeline for releasing the revised review. We’re now getting down to the wire and it’s vital that there be no further delay.”