Judge Clarifies Arctic Offshore Decision


"Judge wasn't prepared to lift prior order. . ."

A federal judge has clarified a decision that stopped companies from developing oil and gas wells off Alaska's coast, saying it shouldn't prevent approved scientific work such as seismic surveying.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, responding to a motion filed by Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc., said his order last month didn't prevent scientific studies that had been approved by the federal government or that were pending approval and planned for this summer. In the clarification, dated Monday, he said properly analyzed activities and work not related to the defects he'd pinpointed could proceed.

However, he said he wasn't prepared to lift the prior order and would address other motions in the case "in due course." The clarification did not mention other leaseholders or companies.

July's decision halted development on billions of dollars in leases in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea, with Beistline finding the federal government didn't follow environmental law before selling drilling rights. Among other things, he found the government had failed to analyze the environmental impact of gas development, "despite industry interest and specific lease incentives for such development," according to court records.

The Obama administration was among those seeking clarification, with government attorneys saying Statoil USA E&P Inc. would likely face "significant economic losses" if it couldn't proceed with seismic surveying.

The state of Alaska sought reconsideration of the order, a request that state Department of Law spokesman Bill McAllister said Tuesday was still pending.

While McAllister said the clarification will preserve Shell jobs for the summer, Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement there are "enormous consequences for Alaskans if this development is stymied."

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