Eni US becomes first company allowed to explore for oil in Arctic

The Trump administration has given Eni US, a unit of Italian oil company Eni, approval for its oil exploration and drilling plan in federal waters off Alaska. Eni will be the first company to receive permission for Arctic drilling since 2015.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the drilling plan as part of President Donald Trump’s plan to boost oil and gas drilling and make the country “energy dominant.”

Eni made a bid in January for four exploration wells in the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf.

Previous attempts to drill in the Arctic have received pushback from conservation groups, and former President Barack Obama in December imposed an indefinite ban on offshore leasing in much of the Arctic Ocean and portions of the Atlantic.

But politicians from the region have pushed Trump to reverse the decision. Alaska GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan introduced a bill in January that proposes opening up a small portion of Alaskan wilderness to drilling for the benefit of the state’s economy.

Trump in April signed an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy executive order to extend offshore oil and gas drilling to areas in the Arctic and other places that have been off limits to support the industry.

The approval is conditional on Eni getting other state and federal permits, which in past cases are generally granted once BOEM gives the green light.

“We know there are vast oil and gas resources under the Beaufort Sea, and we look forward to working with Eni in their efforts to tap into this energy potential,” said BOEM’s acting Director Walter Cruickshank.

Eni plans to drill into the Beaufort Sea from an artificial island using extended wells more than 6 miles (10 km) long starting in December.

Eni’s leases, which were set to expire by the end of the year, were outside of an area protected by former President Barack Obama weeks before he left office. The company’s plan to move ahead with risky and expensive drilling comes despite years of low oil prices and dangerous Arctic conditions.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc quit its exploration quest offshore Alaska in 2015 after a ship it had leased suffered a gash in mostly uncharted waters and environmentalists had discovered an existing law that limited the company’s ability to drill.

Environmentalists complained that the administration rushed the approval of Eni’s plan, providing the public only 21 days to comment on the plan and only 10 days to comment on scoping for an environmental review required by federal law.

An environmental lawyer said her group would work to stop the drilling. “We’ll fight Trump’s reckless giveaway of our oceans for the sake of polar bears, whales and ice seals and the fragile ecosystems where they live,” said Kristen Monsell, a lawyer with the nonprofit group, the Center for Biological Diversity.

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