Trump administration approves offshore oil drilling project off Alaska’s coast


The Trump administration approved a company’s plan Wednesday to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, the first time oil would be produced from federal waters in the Arctic.

The approval from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is conditional, and Hilcorp Energy Co. would still have to get other federal permits and abide by standards like restricting drilling seasons.

“Working with Alaska Native stakeholders, the Department of Interior is following through on President Trump’s promise of American energy dominance,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.

“American energy dominance is good for the economy, the environment, and our national security. Responsibly developing our resources, in Alaska especially, will allow us to use our energy diplomatically to aid our allies and check our adversaries. That makes America stronger and more influential around the globe.”

The Alaska Liberty project would not use a traditional mobile drilling rig like the ones common in the Gulf of Mexico and other offshore drilling areas.

It would instead involve building a new nine-acre gravel artificial island about five miles off the coast to host the drilling. Four other oil and gas producing islands are nearby in waters that the state controls.

David Wilkins, senior vice president of Hilcorp’s Alaska operations, said the company is “pleased” with the administration’s approval.

“The Record of Decision is the result of years of study and due diligence by multiple federal, state and local agencies and the project team. If granted final approvals, the Liberty Project will provide decades of responsible resource development and strengthen the energy future of Alaska and the United States,” he said in a statement.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the project is dangerous to the environment and the climate.

“Opening the Arctic to offshore oil drilling is a disaster waiting to happen,” Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director for the group, said in a statement. “This project sets us down a dangerous path of destroying the Arctic. An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up and the region is already stressed by climate change.”

The Liberty prospect has as much as 150 million barrels of oil, Hilcorp said. The company estimates that at its peak, the project could produce up to 70,000 barrels per day.

The United States consumed an average of 19.96 million barrels of oil a day in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The oil from Liberty would be transported through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which industry advocates and Alaska officials fear moves too little oil to remain operational.

With the approval issued, environmental groups can sue Interior in federal court to stop the drilling. The Center for Biological Diversity didn’t commit to suing, but said it will “keep fighting this project and any new ones that follow.”

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