WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is canceling its plans to sell oil drilling rights in the Arctic Sea through 2017, a remarkable turnaround since expanding drilling by approving new drilling permits for Shell Oil earlier this year.
But Royal Dutch Shell's decision last month to suspend its oil exploration in offshore Alaskan waters — citing disappointing results from a well in the Chukchi Sea — prompted the Interior Department to cancel further oil leases.
“In light of Shell’s announcement, the amount of acreage already under lease and current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
The Obama administration came under fire from environmental groups after approving permits for Shell to drill even as President Obama was embarking on a three-day trip to Alaska to highlight the effects of climate change in the Arctic. Those same groups applauded Friday's move, with the Natural Resources Defense Council calling it "an essential reprieve" for Arctic Waters.
"The next step should be to take Arctic and Atlantic waters off the table to oil and gas drilling for good," said NRDC's Franz Matzner.
Also Friday, the department also denied requests by Shell and the Norwegian company Statoil to extend existing years beyond 10 years. Both companies had asked for five-year extensions, arguing that they should have more time because regulations had prevented them from exploring for oil. Without those extensions, the leases will expire by 2020.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the decision was "absurd." The Interior Department is throwing up regulatory roadblocks to prevent drilling, she said — and then using the lack of drilling to justify canceling the lease sales.
“This is a stunning, short-sighted move that betrays the Interior Department’s commitments to Alaska and the best interests of our nation’s long-term energy security," said Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee. "Today’s decision is the latest in a destructive pattern of hostility toward energy production in our state that began the first day this administration took office, and continued ever since."
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1RNmb6j