On Monday, the Obama administration gave Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. conditional approval to start drilling for oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement: “We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives.”
This is good news for Shell, which for years has been seeking approval to drill in the remote waters of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Ocean, believed to hold vast reserves of oil and gas. Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, said: “[t]he approval of our Revised Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan is an important milestone and signals the confidence regulators have in our plan.”
Environmentalists, though, were not happy with the news. Many have been pressing the administration to reject proposals for offshore Arctic drilling, saying a drilling accident in the icy and treacherous waters of the Arctic Ocean would have far more devastating effects than the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the water.
It has also been noted that the Chukchi Sea is one of the most dangerous places to drill in the world. The weather is extreme and the area is extremely remote, which would make it difficult for any clean-up or rescue workers to get there in case of an accident.
A New York Times article notes that, while in some ways Obama has pursued a more ambitious environmental agenda than any other president, he “has also sought to balance those moves by opening up untouched federal waters to new oil and gas drilling.” The opening of the Chukchi Sea comes just four months after Obama opened a portion of the Atlantic coast to new offshore drilling.
The Interior Department’s approval of the drilling is conditional — Shell will have to obtain approval on a series of remaining drilling permits for the project; but as long as they pass a final set of permit reviews, they can proceed to drill this summer.