Alaska Native corporation acquires oil and gas leases in Arctic waters

The Alaska Native corporation representing the North Slope has bought 21 federal leases in the Beaufort sea formerly owned by Shell. That gives the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, or ASRC, the right to explore for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, which has historically been controversial in the region.

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Arctic Ocean (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey)
Arctic Ocean (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey)

Rex Rock, Sr., is the President and CEO of ASRC.  He announced Wednesday that the corporation has acquired Shell’s leases in Camden Bay, just off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

After spending billions on an unsuccessful exploration campaign, Shell halted its efforts to drill in the Arctic in 2015. However, Rock said Shell’s failure to develop on the Outer Continental Shelf doesn’t mean there isn’t opportunity for oil and gas development there.

“We all know how the Chukchi effort ended, yet we know there is still tremendous potential in Alaska’s offshore,” Rock said.

Camden Bay is the site of the Sivulliq and Torpedo prospects. Rock said ASRC also obtained Shell’s data on the sites. He made the announcement at a conference hosted by the Resource Development Council in Anchorage.

The Interior Department is expected to announce soon whether it will include the Arctic in its 5-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing. Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack said ASRC’s willingness to take on the leases is a sign of local support for offshore drilling — and it should signal to the federal government that the Arctic must be included in the plan.

“For ASRC to take this step out and say we believe that we can do this and we believe this can be done safely and we’re doing this on behalf of our shareholders should speak volumes to the conversations that are going on and the analysis being conducted in Washington, D.C.,” Mack said.

Alaska officials and the oil industry have strongly advocated for Arctic leases to be included in the 5-year plan. Environmental groups oppose their inclusion due to concerns about climate change and impacts to wildlife.

A decision not to offer future lease sales in the new five year OCS plan would have no effect on current leases.

Correction: The story originally indicated the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation bought two leases in the Beaufort sea. The actual number is 21 leases. This story has been updated.

Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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