ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Moratorium Won’t Stop Unprecedented BP Project in the Arctic

The Obama administration's six-month moratorium has put a freeze on new offshore drilling permits, but three miles off the coast of Alaska, there's one unprecedented drilling project by BP that's still moving forward regardless.

That's according to two investigations this week--one in today's New York Times and the other published online by Rolling Stone on Tuesday.

The pieces both drilled down on a project by BP called "Liberty," a project in the Arctic for which BP has built an artificial island made of gravel--which according to the company and regulators, qualifies it as "onshore," and not subject to the offshore drilling moratorium.

The project is considered risky by some engineers because it involves drilling two miles into the gravel island and then drilling sideways several miles more to reach a 100-million-barrel oil reservoir. Rolling Stone noted that it would be "the longest ‘extended reach' well ever attempted, and the effort has required BP to push drilling technology beyond its proven limits."

The Times reported that this wasn't the only unusual aspect of the project. It cited two scientists from the government's Minerals Management Service who said that regulators let BP write its own environmental review for the project:

The environmental assessment was taken away from the agency's unit that typically handles such reviews, and put in the hands of a different division that was more pro-drilling, said the scientists, who discussed the process because they remained opposed to how it was handled.

"The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre," one of the federal scientists said.

The project is also moving forward despite concerns expressed by government scientists about the risks of drilling in the Arctic. Here's Rolling Stone:

Last September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urged the president to halt future leases in the Arctic, warning that federal regulators operating on Bush-era guidelines had "greatly understated" the risks of drilling. Both industry and government, the scientists added, displayed a "lack of preparedness for Arctic spill responses" and had failed to "fully evaluate the potential impacts of worst-case scenarios."

MMS told Rolling stone it considers Liberty safe. BP said the same in its proposal, according to the Times. BP declined the Times' requests for further comment, but according to Rolling Stone, has previously called the project "one of its biggest challenges to date." Drilling could begin as soon as the fall, assuming a final application is submitted by BP and approved by regulators.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
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