08/04/2011 - The Department of the Interior on Thursday granted Royal Dutch Shell conditional approval of its plan to begin drilling exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean next summer, a strong sign that the Obama administration is easing a regulatory clampdown on offshore oil drilling that it imposed after last year’s deadly accident in the Gulf of Mexico.
The move confirms a willingness by President Obama to approve expanded domestic oil and gas exploration in response to high gasoline prices and continuing high levels of unemployment. It comes as the issuing of drilling permits in the gulf is quickening, including the granting on Thursday of a permit for a Shell floating drill rig for a 4,000-foot-deep well. That means that that all five of its rigs there will be back to work after a long drilling halt.
The decision to tentatively approve Shell’s plan to drill four exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea off the North Slope of Alaska represents a major step in the company’s efforts to exploit the vast oil and gas resources under the Arctic Ocean, although some hurdles remain.
Marilyn Heiman, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Arctic program, said that the region was the harshest area in the world in which to drill for oil, as well as the sensitive habitat for a variety of sea mammals. The proposed well sites are subject to fierce winds and high seas in the fall and lie hundreds of miles from the nearest Coast Guard stations.
“Hard questions need to be asked about any oil company’s ability to mount a response to a major oil spill in hurricane-force winds, high seas, broken and shifting sea ice, sub-zero temperatures and months of fog and darkness,” Ms. Heiman said in an e-mail from Alaska.
Read the full article, Shell Gets Tentative Approval to Drill in Arctic, on The New York Times' Web site.