Work starts on oil exploration project in Arctic federal waters

The drilling rig on Spy Island. Eni started exploration this week. (Photo courtesy Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement)

This week, the Italian company Eni began the initial drilling of an exploratory oil well in the Beaufort Sea, west of Prudhoe Bay.

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It’s the first oil exploration project to take place in Arctic federal waters since Shell discontinued their efforts in 2015.

The movement on the project comes after Eni passed a pre-drill inspection earlier this month, conducted by the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Two of the Bureau’s personnel were present for the initial drilling to ensure compliance with permits and regulations. Inspectors from the agency will continue to make visits to the site throughout the drilling phase, which they anticipate to last most of the winter.

There’s currently a second drilling project proposed in the Beaufort Sea, by the Texas-based company Hilcorp. Known as the Liberty Project, it’s a drilling and production facility that Hilcorp says could increase the amount of oil going through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline by 70,000 barrels a day. The federal government has begun preparing the final environmental impact statement for that project.

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