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Obama administration unveils rules for drilling in Arctic

08 July 2016

The US Department of Interior yesterday unveiled its final regulations on drilling in the US Arctic Outer Continental Shelf, aimed at securing safety in the environmentally sensitive region.

The rules set out safety standards for exploratory drilling on the US Arctic Outer Continental Shelf for vessels on Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

"The rules help ensure that any exploratory drilling operations in this highly challenging environment will be conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, while protecting the marine, coastal and human environments, and Alaska Natives' cultural traditions and access to subsistence resources,'' said Janice Schneider, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Reuters reported.

The rules were a key component of the Obama administration's strategy for energy development in the Arctic region, she added.

Oil and gas exploration in the US Arctic had been limited and Royal Dutch Shell, last year, ended prospecting for oil in the region after failing to find enough crude oil, despite getting permission from the US to drill.

The company had spent $7 billion in the effort off Alaska's coast. In 2012, Shell halted Arctic exploration after an enormous drilling rig broke free and ran aground.

Under the new rules oil operators would be required to submit a detailed operations plan before filing an exploration request. The operators would also need to demonstrate the ability to rapidly deploy containment equipment, such as capping stacks or domes, as also a relief rig in the event of a well accident.

''The unique Arctic environment raises substantial operational challenges,'' said Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), in a statement accompanying the release of the new rules. ''These new regulations are carefully tailored to ensure that any future exploration activities will be conducted in a way that respects and protects this incredible ecosystem and the Alaska Native subsistence activities that depend on its preservation.''

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