After last year’s bewildering ban that placed much of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off limits to development, legislative activity related to offshore drilling in the Arctic slowed dramatically. Legislator’s and energy companies alike paused to determine the best path forward to achieve oil and gas development projects in the region. After a few months of planning and legal research, it appears that the Arctic is gearing up for a busy legislative future in the coming months, with many positive developments on the horizon.
This weekend, the administration indicated that it will soon issue multiple executive orders that will affect America’s offshore energy future. One order is expected to call for a review of the previous administration’s 2017-2022 offshore leasing plan, and many speculate that this new plan would include lease sales in the Beaufort or Chukchi seas. Another order is expected to address the Antiquities Act and potentially reopen areas for fishing and development that were placed permanently off limits.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has made it clear that his department is considering all options for Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lease planning. The secretary indicated that he is ready to kick start this offshore drilling revamp soon – the aforementioned executive orders could be released as early as Friday.
In other Arctic news, Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia (with corresponding Senate action from Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana) announced today the introduction of the Outer Continental Shelf Energy Access Now (OCEAN) Act to the U.S. House of Representatives. The OCEAN Act would reverse the moratorium the Obama administration issued in 2016. It would also require the Secretary of the Interior to give a full report on why available leasing areas were omitted from five year leasing programs, should they chose to remove certain areas. The bill aims to prevent bans like the one the Obama administration hastily released in late December of last year. Rep. Brat explained:
“The current limitations on oil exploration needlessly make our country more reliant on energy sources from unstable regions of the world. Lifting these regulations will create jobs and boost our economy and fulfill President Trump’s promise to reverse Obama administration policies.”
Alaska’s senators have also joined that wave of Arctic legislative activity with the release of their Offshore Production and Energizing National Security Alaska (OPENS) Act this month. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan joined forces to create a bill that would repeal the offshore withdrawals that the previous administration enforced in the Arctic OCS. Senator Murkowski described the reasoning behind the OPENS Act:
“This bill charts a much better course for responsible energy production in our Beaufort and Chukchi seas that actually reflects the views of the vast majority of Alaskans. These areas contain prolific resources that can be safely developed to create jobs, reduce our deficits, keep energy affordable, and strengthen national security.”
All of these legislative developments will lead in progress in America’s OCS future. Each action addresses a different aspect of OCS planning and development and, together, these actions could lead to a complete overhaul of the current leasing schedule and policies. The Arctic Energy Center supports both the OCEAN and OPENS Acts and looks forward to a new 2017-2022 OCS plan that includes Arctic leasing options.