August 6, 2011

Shell Inching Closer To Alaskan Drilling OK

Shell, the largest oil company in Europe, has been given conditional approval by American government officials to begin drilling exploration wells in the Arctic Ocean in 2012, Alex Ogle of the AFP reported on Friday.

In a statement released Thursday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) confirmed that the Department of the Interior has, in Ogle's words, "opened the doors to Shell's proposal for four shallow water exploration wells in Alaska's Beaufort Sea to start in July 2012, said in a statement Thursday."

"We base our decisions regarding energy exploration and development in the Arctic on the best scientific information available," BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich told AFP, adding that they agency would review Shell's activities to ensure that they acted in a "safe and environmentally responsible manner."

Shell, who still needs to obtain permits from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service, among others, welcomed the news, saying that they had "cautious optimism" that they would be able to drill there in a year's time.

Environmental groups were less pleased.

"This is a disaster waiting to happen, but still BOEMRE is moving forward with Arctic Ocean drilling," Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris said in a statement Thursday, according to Ogle.

"BOEMRE's decision to disregard science and gamble with a region that is crucial to endangered bowhead whales, seals, polar bears and other marine wildlife that Native subsistence communities rely upon so heavily is inexcusable," she added.

"Proceeding with oil and gas drilling at this time is simple and plain lunacy," Chuck Clusen, director of Alaska projects for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Katarzyna Klimasinska of Bloomberg in an interview. "America's Arctic is our last frontier, and this magnificent ecosystem supports a vast array of marine mammals: whales, polar bears, walrus, ice seals."

In all, Shell needs to obtain nearly three dozen permits before drilling off of Alaska can begin, Klimasinska reported Wednesday. The company has invested a reported $3.5 billion in the region and faces an October deadline to finalize plans for next year--a deadline that could well come without officials securing all the permits they need from the US government.

According to the Bloomberg reporter, Shell's American President of Operations told the US Chamber of Commerce late last month that it was "frustrating and disappointing" attempting to seek the approval of so many different regulatory agencies, especially considering that the company faced what spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh referred to as "investment decisions that can't be deferred."


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