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Activists raise concerns as US approves Alaska offshore drilling

Former US President Barack Obama banned oil and gas exploration in most of the Arctic Ocean, but his successor Donald Trump has ordered interior secretary Ryan Zinke to review the ban.

world Updated: Jul 14, 2017 16:39 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press
federal bureau of ocean energy management,Petroleum exploration,Former President Barack Obama
File photo of an off-shore drilling site.(Reuters)

Petroleum exploration has largely ceased in federal waters off Alaska but an Italian multinational oil and gas company has received permission from the US government to move ahead with modest drilling plans on leases sold in 2005.

The federal bureau of ocean energy management on Wednesday announced conditional approval of an exploratory drilling plan submitted by Eni US Operating Co. Inc., part of Eni S.p.A.

The company plans to drill four exploration wells from the Spy Island drill site, an 11-acre artificial gravel island constructed in state of Alaska waters. It’s one of four artificial islands in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north coast that support oil production.

Former President Barack Obama last year banned oil and gas exploration in most of the Arctic Ocean. President Donald Trump in April ordered interior secretary Ryan Zinke to review the ban with the goal of opening offshore areas. Environmental and Alaska Native groups in May sued to maintain the ban.

Environmental groups say potential Arctic Ocean spills put polar bears, bowhead whales and other marine mammals at risk.

Eni’s leases would have expired at the end of 2017, said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, in a prepared statement. Eni’s plan calls for extended-reach wells that could stretch more than 9.7 km into federal waters. The Trump administration provided the public only 21 days to review and comment on the exploration plan and only 10 days to comment on scoping for an environmental assessment, she said.

“Approving this Arctic drilling plan at the 11th hour makes a dangerous project even riskier,” Monsell said. “An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up.”

Personnel at Eni’s office in Anchorage said they could not comment and forwarded a request for comment to company officials in Milan.

First Published: Jul 14, 2017 16:39 IST