US Government Allows Shell to Resume Drilling In The Arctic

171 US Government Allows Shell to Resume Drilling In The Arctic
Charles Conatzer/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The Obama administration gave conditional approval on Monday for Shell to restart drilling activities in the Arctic, despite dire warnings from environmentalists. This is seen as a major victory for the oil company, which was halted from exploring the waters off the Alaskan coast in 2012, but the controversial move has been met with outcry and harsh criticism from environmental groups.  

Shell has been fighting to resume drilling and exploration of the Chukchi Sea for the past three years after it was forced to suspend operations due to a series of safety and operational problems. Each time, their proposals have been rejected by the Interior Department, but this time they have been accepted, as the new plans are able to “meet important safety and environmental standards and to protect workers, wildlife and access to subsistence use areas.”


Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the organization that approved the plans, said: “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.”

But environmental groups have been quick to slam the move by the U.S. government, claiming that Shell cannot be trusted with drilling in such an environmentally sensitive area. They point to the grounding of one of Shell’s rigs on a pristine island in the Gulf of Alaska in 2013. This "mishap" demonstrates how "drilling in the Arctic is reckless and irresponsible," according to the Alaskan Wilderness League.     

Even the BOEM’s own environmental impact assessment report admit that there is a “75% chance of one or more large spills occurring.” If this did happen within Arctic waters, the results could be devastating. The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people, spewing nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean, the repercussions of which are still being felt today. The proposed site is 112 kilometers (70 miles) offshore, with the nearest U.S. coast guard station some 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away.

“Once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth,” said Susan Murray, vice-president of the environmental group Oceana. “Shell’s need to validate its poorly planned investment in the U.S. Arctic Ocean is not a good reason for the government to allow the company to put our ocean resources at risk.”


The approval from the Internal Department to start extracting the estimated 15 billion barrels of oil is conditional on the issuing of state and federal drilling permits, including authorizations related to the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.   

The government has also issued new, stricter drilling regulations, such as only allowing drilling during summer months and in shallow water. As Thomas Lorenzen, ex-assistant chief in the environment and natural resources division of the Justice Department told the NY Times: “Notably the proposed exploration is in very shallow waters—only 140 feet deep—and thus it will not present the kinds of challenges that the Deepwater Horizon spill posed. That well was in water about 5,000 feet deep.”


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  • oil drilling,

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