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U.S. Affirms Shell, Statoil Arctic Oil-Lease Purchases

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Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- The 2008 U.S. sale of Alaska oil leases, which raised more than $2.6 billion from companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Statoil ASA, was reaffirmed today by the Interior Department.

The companies were held back from drilling in the Chukchi Sea after a U.S. District Court judge ordered the department in 2010 to do more environmental analysis. The ruling was triggered by a lawsuit filed by the North Slope village of Point Hope and environmental groups.

Shell, which paid $2.1 billion for tracts in the sale, plans to drill as many as three wells a year during the 2012 and 2013 exploration seasons, The Hague-based company said in a plan filed in May.

Federal offshore-drilling regulators haven’t decided whether to approve that proposal. Today’s decision affirming the lease sale, announced in an e-mailed statement from the Interior Department, clears the way to finish the exploration-plan review, according to Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh.

“We look forward to begin exploring this critical part of our Alaska portfolio in 2012,” op de Weegh said today in an e-mailed statement.

Statoil ASA of Stavanger, Norway, which holds 66 leases in the Chukchi Sea, plans to start exploration in 2014 at the earliest, Lars Andreas Sunde, head of Statoil’s office in Anchorage, Alaska, said in an e-mail on Sept. 12.

The Chukchi Sea may hold 15 billion barrels of oil, the U.S. said in 2008 when marketing the sale.

“If an oil spill were to happen in the Arctic’s extreme, remote conditions, there is no proven method and almost no resources available to clean it up,” Emilie Surrusco, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Wilderness League, said today in a statement. The Washington-based organization was among the plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit.

To contact the reporter on this story: Katarzyna Klimasinska in Washington at kklimasinska@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net