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Canada poised to extend Arctic oil exploration permits

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The Canadian government is giving companies looking for signs of oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea more time.

Five companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in exploration rights and their licences were set to expire as early as 2016.

The companies have been asking for extensions because they say they need more time after taking part in a review of Arctic drilling.

The National Energy Board spent two years on the review, speaking with northerners and industry experts. The goal of the review was to help prevent a major oil spill like the one which devastated the Gulf of Mexico.

But companies that supported the review, such as Imperial Oil, lost precious time.

"Our exploration plans weren’t advancing so the restoration of the time, from our perspective, is critical to maintaining the option to plan and potentially drill an exploration well or wells," said Pius Rolheiser, who speaks for Imperial Oil.

The federal government is now finalizing agreements to give the companies new licensees for the time lost.

The new expiry dates range from 2019 to 2021.

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Mervin Gruben is eager to see exploration ramp up.

"We're on track with the all-weather road from Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik. I've always said within three years when that’s done the offshore will be ready to go,” said Gruben.

At this year's Petroleum show, only one company, ConocoPhillips, announced plans to drill. They're going to be drilling close to shore near Tuktoyuktuk.

The company is looking at three or four years of engineering work, five years for regulatory approval and another five years for construction. The company doesn't expect to be producing oil from the site until at least 2025.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.