Administration Gives Conditional Approval for Shell to Drill in Arctic

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from The New York Times,

The Obama administration gave conditional approval on Monday for Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

The approval is a major victory for Shell and the rest of the petroleum industry, which has sought for years to drill in the remote waters of the Chukchi seas, which are believed to hold vast reserves of oil and gas.

“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,” Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

The Interior Department decision is a devastating blow to environmentalists, who have pressed the Obama administration to reject proposals for offshore Arctic drilling. Environmentalists say that a drilling accident in the icy and treacherous Arctic waters could have far more devastating consequences than the deadly Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010, when an oil rig explosion killed 11 men and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing into the water.

The move came just four months after the Obama administration opened up a portion of the Atlantic coast to new offshore drilling, adding a new chapter to the president’s environmental legacy.

On some fronts, President Obama has pursued the most ambitious environmental agenda of any president, issuing new regulations intended to curb climate change, working toward an international global warming accord, and using his executive powers to put public lands off-limits from development. But he has also sought to balance those moves by opening up untouched federal waters to new oil and gas drilling.

The Interior Department’s approval of the drilling was conditional on Shell’s receiving approval of a series of remaining drilling permits for the project.

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