The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has issued a conditional permit for the first oil and gas production facility in federal Arctic waters.
"Responsibly developing our resources, in Alaska especially, will allow us to use our energy diplomatically to aid our allies and check our adversaries," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in the announcement Wednesday. The Liberty Project is a proposal for production wells on a gravel island in the Beaufort Sea, The Associated Press reports. Hilcorp Energy will build an island 15 miles east of Prudhoe Bay, close to six miles offshore, developing federal leases sold in the 1990s. It will have room for 16 wells, with Hilcorp estimating it will extract 60,000 to 70,000 barrels per day, moving the oil to shore through an undersea pipe.
Federal officials said conditions will be in place to make drilling safe, which is cold comfort to the environmental groups that oppose the project. In 2017, Hilcorp Alaska LLC was fined $200,000 for violations at another site, and Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, warned of the devastation that could happen if just one thing goes wrong. "An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up and the region is already stressed by climate change," she told AP.