Slaiby and some lawmakers have argued that the drilling deadline should fluctuate with changing sea ice estimates. Slaiby said Sunday that the most recent sea ice forecast in the Chukchi Sea “does give us some additional back-in time.”
But Michael Bromwich, the attorney who led an overhaul of Interior’s deepwater drilling oversight following the 2010 BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, recently said drilling plans in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas were composed on a “historical timeline” and based on “reason and fact.” He said Interior should exercise caution when called to reconsider the drilling schedule in those waters.
Interior’s decision on the Shell request could offer another attack line for Republicans, and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to hit President Obama’s drilling policies.
Republicans contend Obama’s reluctance to increase drilling on federally controlled off- and onshore areas has thwarted a potential economic boost by keeping reserves off limits. Romney, on the other hand, has made such operations the centerpiece of his energy plan.
The GOP has pushed legislation to expedite Arctic offshore drilling and open up Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions compared with what Obama put forth with his five-year drilling plan. Obama’s plan, however, does not require congressional approval.
But Republican claims that increased fossil-fuel exploration would jolt the economy are likely overly optimistic, according to a Congressional Budget Office report released earlier this month. That report said opening up lands currently off-limits would bring in limited new revenue, and that the Gulf of Mexico would still carry the load for offshore production.
Kelly op de Weegh, a spokeswoman for Shell, told The Hill on Monday that the firm has been in contact with Interior about its options.
"This includes discussions on both site preparation work and the sea ice forecast at the end of the season," she said. "Current ice forecast models indicate an extended open water window.
"It remains our goal to drill two complete exploration wells plus begin some wells which can be drilled to total depth next summer," she said.
— This post was updated at 9:42 a.m.