Margaret Kriz Hobson
In a sign that the Obama administration is willing to clear the regulatory decks for oil drilling in Alaska's remote Arctic waters, the Interior Department on Friday gave a conditional green light allowing Royal Dutch Shell PLC to explore for oil this summer in Alaska's Chukchi Sea.
More than 20 years after sinking its first exploratory well in the Chukchi, only to later abandon the project, Shell is seeking to reopen drilling in the nation's northern-most federal waters. The campaign has already had a colossal price tag. So far, Shell officials say they have sunk $4 billion in the project, including $350 million to build two of their own ice-breaking ships.
Marilyn Heiman, director of Pew Environment Group's U.S. Arctic program, described Shell's massive oil spill contingency plan as "robust," but she said it contains serious gaps. Heiman argued that basic scientific data is lacking on the ecology of the Arctic waters and on the reliability of Shell's spill prevention and spill response plans. She called on federal regulators to determine which ecologically sensitive regions of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas should be protected from development before they allow development in the region.
But Pew's Heiman wants federal regulators to set more stringent, Arctic-specific standards for oil spill prevention, safety and response. She said that with federal regulators apparently ready to allow Shell to begin exploratory drilling this summer, the environmental community plans to use every tool available to push for stricter oversight of the oil industry.
"We're trying to point out that this is a long road," she said. "This is a road that will take us through all the questions about seismic activity, exploration, development and construction of infrastructure" for oil development in the Arctic.
Read the full article, With Federal Green Light, Shell Hits the Gas on Arctic Plans, on the E&E News website.