White House Gives Conditional Approval to Shell Arctic Drilling Plan

The Olympic Mountains provide a backdrop in April for a vessel carrying an oil drilling rig near Port Angeles, Wash.  (Daniella Beccaria / Associated Press)
The Olympic Mountains provide a backdrop in April for a vessel carrying an oil drilling rig near Port Angeles, Wash. (Daniella Beccaria / Associated Press)

The Obama administration on Monday announced conditional approval for Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. to resume its long and troubled efforts to drill in the Arctic Ocean, a decision that drew broad backlash from environmental  groups that warned of the risks of operating in the extreme conditions off the coast of Alaska.

Shell has spent more than $5 billion on its Arctic plans in recent years and has previously received federal permission to drill. But its plans have been repeatedly interrupted by legal challenges, technical problems and the formidable perils of working in the Arctic.

On New Year’s Eve 2012, a Shell drill rig broke free from a tow line and ran aground in stormy conditions in the Gulf of Alaska. Last year, the company abandoned plans to pursue summer drilling after a federal appeals court ruled that the permitting process had been flawed.

This time, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, Shell and government regulators are better prepared.

The agency approved a Shell plan to drill up to six exploratory wells, starting with two this summer, in a relatively shallow section of the Chukchi Sea called the Burger Prospect, about 70 miles west of Wainwright, Alaska, in the Arctic Ocean. The approval, while conditional, clears the way for Shell to seek other required federal permits before it can begin drilling.

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SOURCE: WILLIAM YARDLEY
The Los Angeles Times

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