Interior Department review could delay Alaska drilling projects

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From Green Right Now Reports

Continued uneasiness about the safety of offshore oil drilling may lead to delays in Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to proceed with five planned wells in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

“We will be making that decision in the several months ahead,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at an Anchorage news conference, citing pending reports on offshore drilling safety and the results of an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The review process could thwart Shell’s plans to prepare a drilling program for the brief 2011 open-water season.

Arctic Alaska was not formally included in the moratorium placed on deepwater drilling in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, but a related Salazar decision delayed exploratory drilling Shell had expected to conduct this summer and fall.

Salazar held the news conference at the end of a brief visit to Alaska, including the North Slope, where the mostly Inupiat Eskimo residents are staunchly opposed to offshore oil development.

Officials are not yet confident about drilling safety and oil-spill prevention and response capabilities in the Arctic. “Until we have answered several questions, no drilling will be allowed in the area,” Salazar said.

Previous analysis estimated that the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska holds about 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil and the Chukchi Sea off the state’s northwestern coast holds about 15 billion. But Salazar warned that pack ice, extreme remoteness and other forbidding conditions make offshore Arctic drilling “a very different kind of challenge.”

“If you look at the Chukchi, it would be very difficult to mount the kind of spill response that was mounted in the Gulf,” he said.

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