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Begich Urges Quick Agency Permitting for Arctic Development

Seismic Work To Get Underway Soon Following Court Ruling

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has urged two federal agencies to quickly approve permits for oil and gas development work in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas following a federal judge's order that cleared the way for such work.

Begich Thursday spoke to separately to both National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Michael Bromwich, urging them to act quickly if the court ruling was favorable for Arctic oil development work. Both committed to working expeditiously to issue the necessary permits.

"The affected oil companies were are on the verge of having to pull the plug on development work in Alaska's Arctic waters, so I'm pleased these two federal agencies have committed to working quickly and responsibly," Begich said. "Hopefully the seismic work will indicate significant reserves of recoverable oil and gas which can be responsibly developed and create jobs for Alaskans."

At issue are plans by Shell and Statoil to undertake seismic testing and survey work in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas this summer, which if successful could lead to oil and gas development in the region. However, the companies' plans were interrupted by a recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline prohibiting Chukchi development because of sloppy work by the federal Minerals Management Service under the Bush administration.

Both Stat Oil and Shell had vessels waiting at Dutch Harbor to conduct the preliminary work immediately, but worried federal agencies wouldn't issue permits quickly enough. Judge Beistline refined his earlier ruling Monday for Shell and Thursday for Statoil. In Statoil's case he said it is "not construed to prevent scientific studies which have already been approved or are pending approval by BOEM (formerly MMS), to include activities under the approved work plan that were fully examined in the Agency's EIS and are unrelated to the defects identified by the Court."

As of Friday morning, Shell expected an Incidental Harassment Authorization from NOAA so it could proceed with its work immediately.

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