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Arctic Drilling

Regulatory

In late February, the Interior Department proposed new regulations governing oil and gas operations in the in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

  • Must have a second oil rig available at the company’s Arctic drill site to sink a relief well in case of a blowout.
  • Must submit region-specific oil spill response plans and to have immediate access to spill control and containment equipment.
  • Alternative A calls for increase in BOP pressure testing frequency to every 7 days from every 14 days, reflecting a concern that for extreme weather conditions to compromise the integrity or functionality of a BOP, particularly one that is maintained on a surface vessel or facility such as a jackup rig under Arctic OCS conditions.
  • Alternative B does not increase frequency of BOP pressure testing.
  • Proposed Arctic drilling standards would apply to the 128 million acres of Beaufort and Chukchi seas territory that were included in the Interior Department’s recent draft 2017-2022 OCS management plan.
  • Proposed deepwater port along Alaska’s western coast, shooting for final action by October 2015

The Pentagon is taking a larger role helping the Interior and Energy department in the Arctic region, with the military assisting in oil spill response and forecasting of declining ice in the region. The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog arm, disclosed the Defense Department’s assistance, saying the low threat of military conflict in the region has allowed the military to participate in the inter-agency Arctic Strategy. The department is in the process of assessing its capabilities and updating its planning in the region.  The Arctic is estimated to contain 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas. While the Obama Administration’s policy in leading the Arctic Council, an eight-member coalition of Arctic nations, has emphasized climate change response rather than energy development, the declining sea ice is opening paths for new extraction in the region.

“These environmental changes in the Arctic are making maritime transit more feasible and are increasing the likelihood of further expansion of human activity, including commercial shipping and oil and gas extraction,” the report said. “Additionally, estimates of significant oil, gas, and mineral deposits in the Arctic have increased interest in exploration opportunities in the region.”

In that capacity, the Coast Guard and the Defense Department have conducted drills to test response to oil spills; in the Coast Guard-led Arctic Shield operation, the department offered air support and other services.  “DOD has provided logistical support, conducted joint planning with the Coast Guard, and provided air support for an oil spill response exercise during previous Arctic Shield training events,” the report said.  The Pentagon is also taking a key role in leading the Energy Department, Interior Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration efforts to forecast sea ice and improve upon their modeling.  As the Defense Department takes the lead on search and rescue operations and protection of new trade routes, as well as its spill response efforts, accurate forecasting is key to establishing the Pentagon’s long-term planning.

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