The US Department of Interior has given Royal Dutch Shell the green light to explore for oil in the Arctic.
It is a major win for the petroleum industry and a blow to environmentalists.
The approval is conditional and depends on remaining state and federal drilling permits for the project, including permits to drill from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and appropriate authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Abigail Ross Harper, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement:
“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives.
“As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”
The Chukchi Sea is said to be one of the world’s most dangerous places to drill, according to both industry and environmental groups.
For years Shell has wanted to drill for oil off the Alaskan coast in the Chukchi Sea – a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean – where Federal scientists say could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil.
Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, called the approval “an important milestone” for the company, signaling “the confidence regulators have in our plan.”
Environmental campaigners oppose the decision.
Susan Murray, an official at Oceana, a group against Arctic drilling, said:
“Our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth.
“Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal.”