On Monday, the Obama administration decided to go ahead and grant Royal Dutch Shell final clearance for resuming its oil and gas drilling operations in the environmentally fragile Arctic Ocean. This is going to be the first time the company has drilled in the area since 2012. Green Groups have vowed to heavily protest the decision.
The United States Department of the Interior permit makes it possible for Shell to conduct drilling procedures in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. Shell had to put a halt to its drilling program regarding the region back in 2012 after having suffered several mishaps, such as losing control of a large rig, from which 18 workers were rescued by the Coast Guard.
The rough weather conditions present in the Chukchi have been the cause for discouraging other various oil companies from drilling in the area.
The approval for Shell continuing its operations comes following the completion of the necessary repairs regarding the Fennica icebreaker which the company employs for carrying emergency well-plugging equipment. The vessel had to be repaired for sustaining a gash in its hull after it hit uncharted shoals off Alaska’s southern coast.
Shell was able to obtain the Chukchi leases during the time of former President George W. Bush’s administration. Since then the company has spent roughly USD 7 billion for exploration purposes in the Arctic. Oil production, however, is at the very minimum a decade away.
According to U.S. government estimates, the Arctic holds about 20% of the undiscovered oil and gas in the world.
The company’s determination of drilling in the region has led to a large wave of protests by environmentalists who aim to protect walruses, whales and polar bears in the fragile area, which according to a large number of scientists is rapidly changing due to the effects of global warming.
Last month, 13 Greenpeace activists hanging from an Oregon bridge were able to temporarily block the Fennica from reaching the Pacific Ocean in order to return back to Alaska.
“President Barack Obama simply has to alter the decision regarding Arctic drilling made eight years ago by former President George W. Bush,” commented Michael Brune, who is head of the oldest environmental group in the country, the Sierra Club.
The club attempted to persuade Obama to change his mind on the sales of oil-zone leases that have been scheduled to take place in 2016 and 2017 respectively and to cancel the drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean.
Later on this month, the President is going to be visiting Alaska in order to speak at a conference focusing on the Arctic-related issues.
Curtis Smith, a spokesperson for Shell, commented the company “is eager to evaluate the region and see if it could really become a national base for energy resources.”
Shell has not yet released a timetable regarding its potential drilling program.