* Shell still awaiting a key permit
* Statoil also seeking permission
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Aug 4 Oil giant Royal Dutch
Shell (RDSa.L) has won authorization from a federal judge to
conduct limited tasks on its now-disputed leases in the remote
region off Alaska's northwestern coast.
A federal judge, who last month froze oil exploration in the
Chukchi Sea because he found the Minerals Management Service
failed to conduct proper environmental analysis before holding
a 2008 lease sale, granted a reprieve to Shell for the
environmental studies and shallow-hazards surveys it plans to
conduct on its leases in the remote territory.
U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline said Shell's
scientific work is not covered by his July 21 order, which
found the entire 2008 lease sale improper, and may in fact help
gather some environmental information that the MMS failed to do
before holding the lease sale.
"The contemplated activity does not include drilling and
may have the benefit of assisting the parties in determining
the propriety of future activities," Beistline said in an order
But Shell is still awaiting a key permit from the National
Marine Fisheries Service that would allow it to conduct marine
mammal surveys, shallow-hazard surveys and ice-scouring studies
in the Chukchi, where the company spent $2.1 billion in 2008
acquiring exploration rights, spokesman Curtis Smith said
Shell is also waiting for NMFS permission to carry out
work in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's northern coast, where the
company also holds leases to prospects it expects to drill in
2011, Smith said.
Meanwhile Statoil, a Norwegian company that also holds
leases in the Chukchi, is also seeking permission from
Beistline to follow through with a planned $40 million seismic
program in the Chukchi.
That request is backed by the Obama administration, which
in a motion last week cited the "significant economic losses"
that Statoil might incur if not allowed to go forward with its
planned survey program.
The Chukchi, which lies between northwestern Alaska and
northeastern Siberia, is estimated by the Interior Department
to hold 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 76 trillion
cubic feet of natural gas. However, information about the
resource potential is scant because there has been little
exploration in the highly remote and forbidding area. Only five
exploration wells have ever been drilled in the Chukchi, four
of them by Shell about two decades ago.
(Editing by Bill Rigby and Sofina Mirza-Reid)