Shell Gets Final Approval for Arctic Drilling
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved Shell’s final drilling permits, which was the last hurdle before the company can begin drilling exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea. The company can begin to drill immediately on the top sections of two wells, but cannot drill down to where the oil and gas is located until the M/V Fennica, the ice breaker carrying the required capping stack for the wells, returns from receiving repairs to its damaged hull in Portland, Oregon.
The permits also restrict Shell to drilling only one well at a time, due to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulation. The federal government found that there is a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill should drilling occur in the Arctic Ocean, yet the Bureau concluded that Shell is able to adequately respond should a spill occur, despite the treacherous and unpredictable conditions in the Arctic Ocean.
The Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a statement that Shell could submit an amended application for deeper drilling when the capping stack can be deployed within 24 hours.
Some environmental groups worry the Arctic's remoteness and rugged conditions will hamper cleanup efforts in the event of a spill, risking devastation of a fragile ecosystem.
Friends of the Earth Climate Campaigner, Marissa Knodel, said: “Today’s approval ignores Shell’s dismal record of safety violations and undermines President Obama’s pledge to combat climate change. With this decision, President Obama has given Shell an open invitation to turn the Chukchi Sea into an energy sacrifice zone, threatening both the resilience of the American Arctic Ocean and his climate legacy.”
Shell and other companies hope to tap into one of the country's last great petroleum reserves. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic offshore reserves in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas at 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil.