America’s Arctic is gradually coming back online after a few years of overburdening restrictions and lease sale withdrawals. Progress has been especially rapid in the Beaufort Sea, whose reserves have the potential to bolster Alaska’s economy and our nation’s energy security. Its resource potential combined with its shallow waters make it ideal for oil and gas exploration. Oil and gas exploration has been occurring in the Beaufort since the early 1970s. E&E highlighted the successful record of exploration and development in the Beaufort saying:
“Beaufort Sea oil has been flowing into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System since 1987 when production began at the Endicott field.”
This week, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced that Eni has met the regulatory requirements needed to move forward with its own Beaufort exploration project. This approval means that the exploration plan has been “deemed submitted” and the public can comment once more on the proposed exploration plan. It is a long and thorough process, but the multiple public comment stages are an example of the transparent and rigorous process, which must be met before any project is approved. BOEM’s acting director Walter Cruichshank expressed his approval for the plan:
“Eni brought to us a solid, well-considered plan. We know there are vast oil and gas resources under the Beaufort Sea, and we look forward to working with Eni in their efforts to tap into this energy potential.”
Eni has been active on the North Slope for over a decade and it currently holds 75 leases in US Arctic waters. This latest Beaufort Sea project will involve drilling on Spy Island. Situated three miles from shore, Spy Island is situated in shallow water of approximately 6 to 9 feet water depth.
The federal government is also evaluating a request from the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) regarding some of its Beaufort Sea lease assets. ASRC is hoping to formally “suspend” operations at some of its Beaufort holdings. Suspending these leases would give ASRC more time to determine if the leases are economically viable and develop exploration plans if they determine that the leases are worth exploring.
Finally, BOEM is evaluating Hilcorp’s Liberty project and currently completing the project’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Liberty project will involve the construction of a gravel island that is about six miles offshore and lies in shallow water (6-9 feet deep). Gravel islands have a proven track record for safe exploration and development, as four islands have already been developed. In fact, oil has been produced from the Northstar island since 2001.
All three of these new Beaufort Sea developments are important projects that bring much needed activity to an area that has tremendous potential. These projects could also be good news for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which is in great need of more oil (throughput). It’s imperative that BOEM continue to move these projects forward in a safe and efficient manner.