Today, the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it denied requests made by Shell and Statoil for five-year extensions of Arctic Ocean leases and that it will not hold two scheduled sales in the region. In 2014, Shell and Statoil submitted requests for “suspensions of operations” for their Arctic Ocean leases. If granted, the requests would have extended the expiration of those leases by five years. DOI previously denied a similar request made by ConocoPhillips. Most of the leases held in the Beaufort Sea will expire in 2017, and leases held in the Chukchi Sea will expire in 2020. A map of leases currently held in the U.S. Arctic Ocean is available here.
Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 was scheduled to be held in 2016, and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242 was scheduled to be held in 2017. Those sales will not be held, and the government is currently considering whether to hold additional sales in the future.
The government’s decision comes after Shell announced last month that it would stop its Arctic Ocean operations for the foreseeable future. The company’s Arctic exploration program has cost billions of dollars and led to controversy and a series of mishaps culminating in the grounding of the drill rig Kulluk. Shell is currently taking the last of its vessels out of Alaskan waters.
In response to the announcement, Oceana’s Deputy Vice President Pacific, Susan Murray, issued the following statement:
“We thank Secretary Jewell and the Department of the Interior. Today’s announcement moves us away from old arguments about companies’ unwise investments and toward better choices for the Arctic Ocean. As Shell found out, the Arctic Ocean is unique and unforgiving. Especially in light of economic, technological, and environmental realities, there is no reason to extend leases or hold new sales. The best way forward is to wipe the slate clean, remove the Arctic Ocean from the next Five-Year Leasing Program, and plan for a sustainable future.
Future choices can be based on science, preparedness, and the clear need to transition to a sustainable energy future. We can and should find ways to work together toward that common goal.”