Arctic offshore analysis brings drilling closer

The Interior Department completed a new analysis of a 2008 oil and gas drilling lease sale in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, a major step toward allowing drilling there.

The analysis was mandated last year by a federal appeals court, which faulted Interior’s last environmental review of the lease that Shell Oil Co. won.

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Interior said the new analysis answers the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s concerns about the potential oil and gas that could be recovered from the offshore lease area.

“The updated analysis is a major step toward resolving the 2008 oil and gas leases that have been tied up in the courts for years,” Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE said in a statement.

“We remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration in this unique, sensitive and often challenging environment.”

The ultimate decision on whether to allow drilling in the area — which Shell has said it wants to do this summer — rests with Jewell. But in the analysis released Thursday, the agency said its preferred choice was to reaffirm the 2008 sale and allow drilling.

Environmentalists were livid at the review and said Interior should not go forward with the lease.

“Permitting new drilling in areas like the Arctic Ocean undermines conservation and climate progress,” Dan Ritzman, Alaska program director for the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

“Drilling in the Chukchi Sea comes with a 75 percent chance of an oil spill. And the latest science shows that developing these dirty fuels comes with a 100 percent chance of worsening our climate crisis.”

John Deans, Arctic campaign specialist for Greenpeace, said that if the Obama administration clears the lease, “it will drastically undermine his recent proposals to protect parts of the Arctic, including the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, from oil drilling.”