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Special Energy Report / ENERGY

Interior Closer to Green-Lighting Shell’s Arctic Drilling This Summer

photo of Olga Belogolova
March 28, 2012

The Interior Department on Wednesday approved a second oil spill response plan for Shell’s pending drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean. The important and controversial approval for Shell's plan for the Beaufort sea follows earlier approval of the company’s operations in the Chukchi Sea.

The approval from the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is one of the last steps needed for the company to begin drilling the Arctic Ocean in July.

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said the decision “further reinforces that Shell’s approach to Arctic exploration is aligned with the high standards the Department of Interior expects from an offshore leader and adds to our confidence that drilling will finally commence in the shallow waters off Alaska this summer.”

 

The Interior Department said approval was given after an “exhaustive review” of the company’s response plan. “Our focus moving forward will be to hold Shell accountable and to follow up with exercises, reviews and inspections to ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready,” BSEE Director James A. Watson said.

Shell’s oil spill response plan for drilling in the Chukchi sea, approved in February, has since come under fire from environmental groups and Alaska drilling opponents, who say it is insufficient for Arctic conditions.

Shell filed a pre-emptive lawsuit earlier this month against a number of environmental groups and native Alaska organizations to get in front of the likely challenges.

“We maintain that the unprecedented amount of time, technology, and resources we have dedicated to preparing for an extremely unlikely worst-case scenario makes Shell’s oil spill response plan second to none in the world,” op de Weegh said. The Beaufort response plan includes the assembly of a 24/7 on-site, near shore and onshore Arctic-class oil spill response fleet, collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard, and a newly engineered Arctic capping system.

Shell still needs to acquire "incidental harassment authorizations" from the National Marine Fisheries Service freeing the company from liability for disturbance of marine life, and it needs letters of authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Interior must also still give final approval to drilling permits after Shell demonstrates its capping and containment equipment is ready to go.

 

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