On Monday, a conditional approval was given to Shell to start drilling for oil off the coast of Alaska. Although the approval given by the Obama administration was welcomed by the petroleum industry, it was criticized by environmentalists.
In a statement, the Interior Department said that the drilling in the Chukchi Sea would begin once certain environmental criteria are met. In addition to state agencies giving the green signal, it must also be signed off by organizations that will evaluate the impact the drilling will have on endangered species.
Shell will be the only company to drill for oil in the federal waters in the Arctic if it acquires the required permits from other departments and agencies. According to CNN, these include the Port of Seattle, where Shell tankers will have to lease a terminal.
According to TIME, the director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Abigail Ross Hopper, said in a statement, “We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea.”
She further added that the drilling will meet “high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives.”
Several environmental activists have raised objections, criticizing the government for approving the drilling. They say that it could have undesirable effects.
They cited the example of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf Mexico that led to a discharge of 4.9 million barrels, claiming that the Alaskan drilling could cause a worse spill. It could also endanger local wildlife.
Shell’s 2012 Arctic exploration efforts also reflect the lack of company’s preparedness to execute a drilling operation in the area. According to Huffington Post, the company had to tackle complications like getting the spill barge certified by the Coast Guard and environmental groups claiming that it was extremely difficult to clean up an oil spill in waters covered by sea ice.
Although Obama’s stance on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions has been appreciated by environmental groups, his support for oil drilling elicited contrasting reactions.
Erik Grafe, a staff attorney at environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, said in a statement, “This decision places big oil before people, putting the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line.
“Arctic Ocean drilling is far too risky and undermines the administration’s efforts to address climate change and transition to a clean energy future.”
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said that the approval of their drilling proposal “is an important milestone and signals the confidence regulators have in our plan.”
He added, “However, before operations can begin this summer, it’s imperative that the remainder of our permits be practical, and delivered in a timely manner.
“In the meantime, we will continue to test and prepare our contractors, assets and contingency plans against the high bar stakeholders and regulators expect of an Arctic operator.”
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