Royal Dutch Shell moved one step closer to restarting its Arctic drilling campaign on Tuesday after the U.S. Interior Department lifted a court ordered suspension of its Alaska Chukchi Sea leases.
“The Arctic is an important component of the administration’s national energy strategy, and we remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration offshore Alaska,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.
Shell initially secured the rights to its Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases in 2008 but a January 2014 federal court decision suspended the leases until further study from the BOEM.
The Interior Department’s decision lifts the suspensions.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will now begin a formal review of Shell’s Chukchi Sea exploration plans that will include public engagement and additional environmental analyses.
Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said in January that his company is planning to restart its Arctic drilling activities later this year.
The company suspended its Arctic program in 2014 after facing numerous technical set backs and opposition from environmentalist groups.
Shell has not disclosed a timeline for the restart.
The Arctic holds an estimated 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil.
The Interior Department is currently considering a request made by Shell to extend its time in the U.S. Arctic.
Norway’s Statoil and Houston-based ConocoPhillips have filed similar requests for their Chukchi Sea leases citing legal challenges and other hurdles that have delayed drilling.
Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski has said low oil prices have made it even more critical for companies to have adequate planning time for large scale projects in the U.S. Arctic.
A recently published National Petroleum Council report commissioned by the Energy Department recommended that the government ramp up offshore Arctic drilling efforts to reduce the country’s dependency on oil imports.