Trump’s administration authorized Hilcorp Energy Co.’s project to construct an artificial gravel island and extract crude in the Beaufort Sea. It is the first approval of the oil production facility in federal Arctic waters.

The gravel island facility

The Interior Department’s approval denotes an essential breakthrough for Hilcorp’s Liberty Project.

The company intends to construct a nine-acre gravel island and production facility in shallow waters. The island will take place nearly five miles off the coast and 20 miles east of Prudhoe Bay.

The proposed facility is entirely innovative. Prior Arctic oil ventures, for example, Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s failed exploration campaign, exercised floating drilling rigs to hunt for crude 70 miles off the Alaska coast in the Chukchi Sea.

It seems like Liberty is comparable to the four existing artificial islands near Alaska. Nevertheless, those facilities are placed in state waters, outside the federal government’s jurisdiction.

Hilcorp is yet obliged to receive permits from state and other federal agencies before the construction. The Interior Department also approved of limiting reservoir drilling to times when there is a thick, 18-inch layer of solid ice on the Beaufort Sea. Besides, the company must avoid pile-driving and moving boats in the area while whalers are hunting in the region.

The conditional approval “is the result of years of study and due diligence by multiple federal, state and local agencies and the project team,” David Wilkins, Hilcorp Alaska Senior Vice President, says. “If granted final approvals, the Liberty Project will provide decades of responsible resource development and strengthen the energy future of Alaska and the United States.”

Compensatory mitigation

Hilcorp has further consented to shut down exterior lights, use black-out curtains and paint buildings in neutral tan. However, the environmentalists assume those mitigation actions are far from perfect.

Environmental watchdogs claim Hilcorp should have done more to protect the fragile Arctic ecosystem from a potentially disastrous oil spill. Some Alaska natives suppose the artificial island could modify the migration routes of bowhead whales. That would result in forcing the species further offshore and raising the risk for subsistence whalers who hunt them.

The Beaufort Sea is currently the hot zone of the oil industry’s interest in U.S. Arctic waters. The shallow waters are more prone to plumb, already possess oil production operations and are close to onshore facilities at Prudhoe Bay.

Earlier the Trump administration approved Eni SpA’s project to drill up to four oil exploration wells in the Arctic. The project originates its activity there from another gravel island in state Beaufort waters.