US oil firm's bid to drill for oil in Arctic hits snag: a lack of sea ice

Plans to establish the first oil drilling operation in US Arctic waters have hit an ironic snag – a lack of sea ice caused by rapid warming in the region.

But in order to get to the oil, Hilcorp Energy, the Texas-based company behind the project, has to construct a temporary gravel island about five miles offshore so it can drill in shallow water.

This nine-acre structure requires an expanse of landfast sea ice, or ice that forms each winter and attaches to the coast, which would then be covered in gravel and then concrete. However, a recent lack of shoreline ice has complicated Hilcorp’s plan to extract up to 70,000 barrels of oil a day, totaling around 150m barrels over two decades, from the site.

This nine-acre structure requires an expanse of landfast sea ice, or ice that forms each winter and attaches to the coast, which would then be covered in gravel and then concrete. However, a recent lack of shoreline ice has complicated Hilcorp’s plan to extract up to 70,000 barrels of oil a day, totaling around 150m barrels over two decades, from the site.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which oversees offshore leasing, said Hilcorp originally forecast it would take a year to construct the island. But this plan has now been revised due to thinning sea ice, as first reported by Alaska Public Media.

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