March 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. government published a call for information in the Federal Registry on Thursday regarding a proposed opening for drillers in Alaska's Arctic waters.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management solicited the information on a proposed lease in the Alaskan waters of the Beaufort Sea next year. The proposal, still in the draft stage, is part of a five-year lease plan that would go into force in 2019 if approved in its current form.
"This process will help us identify not only the areas that can be safely and responsibly developed, but also those areas that should be protected for wildlife and traditional uses," James Kendall, director of BOEM's Alaskan region, said in a statement.
President Donald Trump last year called for a review of the five-year program for offshore oil and gas development. It was seen as a challenge to a late-term decision by former President Barack Obama to use parts of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to ban oil and gas work in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the coast of Alaska, as well as Atlantic coast areas.
By November, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement under Trump said "achieving American energy dominance" moved a step closer with the approval of a permit for a U.S. subsidiary of Italian energy company Eni to drill for oil from an artificial island in the Beaufort Sea.
The agency estimated Eni's preliminary effort with its exploration well could lead to new production of around 20,000 barrels of oil per day. The company has a presence in the region, with 18 producing wells in its portfolio.
The Italian energy company acquired leases more than a decade ago that would've expired without further action. Royal Dutch Shell in late 2015 challenged a federal decision to turn down a request to suspend leases in the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska that would expire in 2017 and 2020.
Federal leases expire at the end of their terms unless operators are engaged in drilling or related activity.
A consortium of environmental advocacy groups, including Earthjustice, the Alaska Wilderness League and the Sierra Club, said the decision offshore Alaska smacks of political favor.
"This Beaufort sale is about giving a win to the Alaska delegation by starting the process to fast-track getting leases into the hands of the oil industry without full, fair and open debate," they said in a statement to UPI. "It's clear that Trump's offshore process is driven purely by politics and is not in the best interest of Americans."
U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Republicans from Alaska, voted in favor of the extensive overhaul to the U.S. tax code. The measure included language inserted by Murkowski that opened parts of the wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.
The publication of the call for information on the Beaufort Sea starts a 30-day comment period that ends April 30.