United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was in Norway this week as part of a roundtable discussion about safe and environmentally responsible offshore drilling, the Department of the Interior reported. The department plans to use the discussion in its efforts to expand exploration and development of the country's offshore energy resources, including those in the Alaskan Arctic. Here are the details.
* This year's forum was hosted by Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Ola Borten Moe. Also in attendance were senior representatives from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and the European Union.
* Salazar's visit to Norway also included a tour of an offshore oil production facility and a roundtable discussion on sustainable Arctic energy development, the Department reported.
* According to Salazar, the Department of the Interior -- which manages more than half of all the land in Alaska -- if it accesses large undiscovered oil and gas resources in the U.S. arctic must "take a careful, step-by-step approach that is grounded in science that protects subsistence uses, wildlife, local communities, and the broader ecosystem."
* Currently, the Department is considering a proposal by Shell to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The company -- if it meets standards and passes inspections, Salazar stated -- will be held to "the closest oversight and most rigorous safety standards ever implemented."
* According to a joint statement offered by Salazar and Borten Moe, offshore oil and gas production will continue to be "a significant component of the world's energy portfolio in the foreseeable future" and the safety of operations is a key priority.
* The participants in the forum emphasized a need to commit to establishing a means to share data on incidents, including near-misses, in order to identify and react to industry-wide risks.
* Participants of the forum in Norway agreed that they will meet again in 2013. They have set the topics for discussion at next year's forum as: containment strategies, emerging themes from health and safety performance data, improvements of national regulatory processes, best practices for offshore safety, progress with the development of international standards and guidelines, reports on serious incidents and mechanisms to share incident data.
* In the meanwhile, Salazar is preparing to release the Department's final proposed Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which includes two potential Arctic lease sales: one in the Chukchi planning area in 2016, and another in the Beaufort area in 2017.