The U.S Interior Department said Wednesday it is considering a request made by Royal Dutch Shell to extend that company’s time in the U.S. Arctic.
The Anglo-Dutch supermajor has asked for a suspension of operations that would pause the clock on its 10 year leases in offshore Alaska.
Shell’s current oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea are set to start expiring in 2017 while its leases in the Chucki Sea will begin expiring in 2019.
Norway’s Statoil and Houston-based ConocoPhillips have filed similar requests for their Chucki Sea licenses citing legal challenges and other hurdles that have delayed drilling.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is currently considering a suspension of operations request from Shell and from Statoil that were filed last year.
“We are actively working with Shell and other leaseholders up there on their request for suspensions. We will be resolving that relatively soon,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said during a senate subcommittee hearing.
Shell is planning to resume exploration in the Chucki Sea this summer after a disappointing 2012 drilling season.
Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski said weak oil prices have made it even more critical for companies to have adequate planning time for large scale projects.
“It makes it all the more important that Shell have the certainty it needs before it proceeds to spend even yet more billions of dollars. (Shell) needs to retain its existing lease portfolio to warrant this enormous investment,” Murkowski said.
Shell’s Arctic plans have faced legal challenges from environmental activists.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently finished a new environmental analysis of the company’s 2008 lease purchase after the permits were challenged in a federal court.
Jewell could make a final decision on the matter as soon as March 25.