10/20/2011 - The Interior Department has been inching closer to approving Royal Dutch Shell’s ambitious plans to drill for what are believed to be huge deposits of oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska. In August, it approved an exploratory drilling plan for the Beaufort Sea, and two weeks ago it upheld the validity of leases in the neighboring Chukchi Sea that had been challenged by environmental groups.
The Interior Department and Shell both insist that they have learned the lessons of the disastrous BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They must prove it. The Interior Department has written tough new regulations governing drilling, including requirements for subsea containment systems to plug a runaway well.
Before issuing final permits to drill, the government must insist that Shell test such a system and verify that it can operate in Arctic conditions. The company must also have on hand a rig capable of drilling a relief well, as well as the equipment — skimmers, booms and other equipment — to clean up any oil that escapes.
Read the editorial The Arctic and the Lessons of the Gulf in its entirety on The New York Times' Web site.