WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has given permission to Shell Oil to begin what it calls “preparatory work” in its controversial effort to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the permission will allow Shell to install a blowout preventer ahead of exploratory oil drilling. The preparatory work involves drilling to install the needed equipment, but the drilling will avoid pockets of oil and gas, Salazar said.
Shell still has other hurdles to cross before it can actually drill for oil -- and winter deadlines are looming.
Thus far, Shell's efforts to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska have been delayed by a series of glitches, including the lack of federal certification for the barge Arctic Challenger. The barge is an integral part of the spill-response system that the company must have in place before getting the final go-ahead for its plans.
“It is our highest priority that any activities that occur offshore Alaska be held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards,” said James A. Watson, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement at the Interior Department.