A Native corporation on Friday won federal approval to keep Arctic Ocean leases once held by Shell and to pursue environmental work that could lead to exploration drilling in waters north of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said it was giving AEX, a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the opportunity to advance toward exploration at 21 leases in the Camden Bay area, 8 to 25 miles off the coast.
Scott Angelle, BSEE director, said in a statement the agency is "encouraged that an Alaska Native organization, representing people who care deeply for the Arctic environment and depend on a subsistence lifestyle, is actively engaged in potential offshore exploration on the outer continental shelf."
AEX is pleased by the decision, said Teresa Imm, AEX president.
On shore, the company is the operator of the Placer oil prospect and holds an interest in two other North Slope fields. This is AEX's first chance to pursue potential offshore exploration, Imm said.
"This gives us the opportunity to do the technical evaluation to determine whether we will have an exploration plan on these leases," Imm said.
To hold on to the leases, AEX must submit quarterly reports of its work and submit an exploration plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in 2023, BSEE's statement said.
AEX obtained the leases from Shell in 2016, and applied with BSEE to keep them active. The Dutch oil giant had announced it was abandoning its unsuccessful Alaska exploration program after it spent more $7 billion to complete just one offshore well.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly said AEX must submit an exploration plan to federal regulators in 2022. In fact, AEX must submit the exploration plan in 2023.