At first I assumed I’d mistakenly followed a link to The Onion this afternoon, but it looks like this is real. The Obama administration took an unusual step yesterday and reaffirmed the lease of drilling rights to an offshore claim in the Arctic. The move was announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
The Obama administration reaffirmed a 2008 government auction of Arctic drilling rights on Tuesday, delivering a major victory to Shell Oil Co. as it aims to resume exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
In validating the seven-year-old auction, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stressed that the Arctic “is an important component of the administration’s national energy strategy.”
“We remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration offshore Alaska,” Jewell said in a statement. “This unique, sensitive and often challenging environment requires effective oversight to ensure all activities are conducted safely and responsibly.”
This lease was originally awarded in the final days of the George W. Bush administration, but Shell has been on hold for more than half a decade since then. But what suddenly shook the stuck proposal into motion again? As we reported earlier, the Energy Department recently issued new guidelines aimed at maintaining domestic energy production levels which included moving to begin drilling in the Arctic. It’s possible that this is the first sign of action following those findings.
But this isn’t a green light to just move some rigs up north and begin drilling. The company will still have to make it past a few additional hurdles by obtaining permits from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and associated regulatory reviews. Energy experts I’ve been in contact with also acknowledge that drilling in the Chukchi Sea is no easy feat under the best of conditions. (And in that part of the world, ideal conditions are hardly a daily condition.) But if everything stays on track they could begin tapping some test wells by early summer and one rig is already on the way to the region.
While I applaud the Obama administration for this move, I’m still not entirely sure how they square this up with their other recent energy related announcements. Just this week the President told that UN that he was going to implement a 28% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. (That will be an interesting trick without Congressional support and the possibility that the next President could undo any executive orders he issues with the stroke of a pen.) The anti-carbon crowd is expecting him to keep up the pressure on fossil fuels, not kick production into a higher gear. But it seems that the realities of the domestic energy boom have begun to sink in at the Oval Office, not only in terms of jobs and domestic economic growth but in matters of foreign affairs as well. If this initial gambit with Shell is a harbinger of things to come, the green lobby may have to sit on their hands for a while as we get back to business.