The US Department of Interior (DOI) has announced new regulations on drilling in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to increase safety in the region.
These regulations are meant to ensure that any exploratory drilling activities on the OCS in future are conducted under the highest safety and environmental standards.
DOI Land and Minerals Management assistant secretary Janice Schneider said: "The regulations we are issuing today support the administration’s thoughtful and balanced approach to any oil and gas exploration in the Arctic region.
"The rules help ensure that any exploratory drilling operations in this highly challenging environment will be conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, while protecting the marine, coastal, and human environments, and Alaska Natives’ cultural traditions and access to subsistence resources."
Regulations primarily focus on OCS exploratory drilling operations from floating vessels within the US Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Oil companies are required to ensure proper internal controls and planning for oil spill prevention, containment and responses.
The latest regulations complement the previously announced Final Well Control Rule, released in April this year, and also ensure that operators take proper steps to plan through all phases of OCS exploration in the Arctic.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) director Abigail Ross Hopper said: "The unique Arctic environment raises substantial operational challenges.
"These new regulations are carefully tailored to ensure that any future exploration activities will be conducted in a way that respects and protects this incredible ecosystem and the Alaska Native subsistence activities that depend on its preservation."
The final rule requires operators to develop an integrated operations plan to address all phases of a proposed exploration programme for Arctic and submit it to BOEM before filing an exploration plan.
Under the regulations, the oil and gas companies need to have access to source control and containment equipment, such as capping stacks and containment domes, at the time of drilling below or working below the surface casing.
Image: The Noble Discoverer, a drillship operated by Noble Corp. under contract to Royal Dutch Shell, on position in the Chukchi Sea in August 2015. Photo: courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell.