A federal judge has revised a decision prohibiting producers from conducting seismic studies offshore Alaska in the Chukchi Sea, clearing the way for U.S. affiliates of Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil ASA to move forward on long-planned tests.

Last month U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled that the Department of Interior had violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it allowed the then-Minerals Management Service to sell drilling rights in 2008 for oil and gas development offshore Alaska (see Daily GPI, July 23). The ruling enjoined all activity on the leases sold.

Following Beistline's ruling, Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. sought reconsideration or clarification of the injunction following the judge's ruling, arguing that it was overly broad because it barred activities such as seismic testing, which did not involve drilling.

The state of Alaska, which intervened in the case, filed a brief supporting Shell's motion on July 30. In addition, the Obama administration intervened, noting that another producer, Statoil USA Inc., owned 16 Chukchi Sea leases about 100 miles offshore where it wanted to seismically test.

Beistline issued a clarification on Aug. 2 indicating that his ruling did not cover Shell or any other company shooting seismic if they had the necessary government permits. The ruling also cleared the way for Shell to conduct shallow hazard and ice gauge surveys.

Statoil said a seismic testing vessel is on its way to the testing site. Equipment was expected to be in the water within two weeks to gather about 920 square miles of 3-D data by the end of October.

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