America, within a few years, could be extracting oil from federal waters in the Arctic Ocean, but it won’t be from a remote drilling platform.
Federal regulators are taking comments on a draft environmental statement for the Liberty Project, a proposal by a subsidiary of Houston-based Hilcorp to create an artificial gravel island that would hold production wells, a processing facility, and the start of an undersea pipeline carrying oil to shore and connections to the trans-Alaska pipeline.
The drilling would be the first in federal Arctic waters since Royal Dutch Shell, amid protest both in the United States and abroad, in 2015 sent down an exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.
Supporters like its chances. A final decision is in the hands of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. President Barak Obama in December signed an executive order designating the bulk of US Arctic Ocean waters indefinitely off-limits to future oil and gas leasing. But President Donald Trump in April signed another order aimed at reversing the policy. Zinke said Trump’s actions would put the country on track for energy independence.
Opponents say Arctic offshore oil should stay in the ground, where it won’t add greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and the melting of sea ice, the habitat of polar bears and walruses. They say spills are inevitable and cannot be cleaned up in icy Arctic water.