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Executive Summary for March 18th

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including oil and gas exploration off the coasts of Norway and Alaska and an international science expedition to study Arctic sea ice.

Published on March 18, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Uncertain future for offshore drilling in Alaska

Contrary to expectations, the Obama administration said on Tuesday that it would offer new leases for drilling off the Alaska coast.

The five-year plan, which runs from 2017 to 2022, would allow three leases in all – one in each of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, and another in Cook Inlet. Portions of the two seas would be blocked to future drilling, reported the Washington Post.

But the proposal isn’t final, reports the Alaska Dispatch News. It remains open to comment – and cancelling the offshore lease sale remains a possibility. No Arctic offshore leases have been sold since 2008.

The Nobel laureates of the Nobel Women’s Initiative urged Arctic nations to remove Arctic waters from future oil and gas exploration, reported the Maritime Executive.

“All Arctic nations share a unique responsibility. The best available science tells us that for a reasonable chance at a safe climate future, some 80% of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground,” the letter read.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama said that future oil and gas exploration in the Arctic would follow “science-based standards,” according to the statement.

But when these new areas come up for auction, will anyone bid on them, asks the Atlantic. Probably, so long as oil prices rebound and the risks – including pressure from shareholders and divestments – aren’t overwhelming.

The collapse in oil prices has forced the Alaska government to make cuts to its schools, the New York Times reported. A campus reorganization and staff cuts are likely at the University of Alaska system. Fewer teachers and larger class sizes are expected within the public school system. The collapse in oil production has cut about two-thirds of the state’s budget, according to the article, leaving Alaska with a $3.5 billion deficit.

Sea ice nearing record low

Arctic Ocean sea ice usually reaches its maximum extent this time of year, suggesting that it may hit another near-record low.

The sea-ice extent currently sits at about 14.4 million square kilometers (5.6 million square miles), roughly the same as last year, which was a record low for maximum sea-ice extent since satellites began logging the measurements. Most of the ice retreat has occurred in the Barents Sea and the water between Greenland and Iceland. Late-season growth could still occur over the next week or so, reported CBC News.

An international research cruise will set sail in 2019 to study the shrinking sea ice, the Guardian reported. It will lock itself into the ice in the Laptev Sea off the coast of Siberia for a full year, monitoring the sea-ice cycle.

Norway moves ahead on northern oil and gas production

Goliat, Eni SpA’s oil platform anchored in Norway’s Arctic waters, began production on Saturday last week, following years of delay and cost overruns, reported Bloomberg. The field may hold as much as 180 million barrels of recoverable oil.

Goliat is the second production area in the Barents Sea after the Snohvit gas field – and an important one. Norway is banking on developing the area to sustain its oil output after fields in the North Sea are depleted, according to the article.

The environmental organization Bellona has taken an in-depth look at Goliat.

On Thursday, Norway announced that it would add exploration blocks in mature areas of the Barents and Norwegian seas, Reuters reported. In a statement, oil minister Tord Lien said the oil and gas industry continues to move north.

Recommended Reading

Top image: The Obama administration said on Tuesday that it would offer new leases for drilling off the Alaska coast. The oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer was one of two oil rigs Shell outfitted for Arctic oil production before abandoning its operations. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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