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WASHINGTON and CALGARY — In a move that buoyed big oil but enraged environmentalists, the Obama administration has given the green light for Royal Dutch Shell to resume offshore drilling in the remote Arctic waters, off Alaska’s northwestern coast.
Monday’s decision, which is conditional on Shell’s getting approval for remaining drilling permits for the project, is a major win for Shell and other petroleum companies, which have sought for years to drill in the harsh waters of the Chukchi Sea, which is believed to hold vast reserves of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.
Shell’s Arctic drilling program and the Keystone XL pipeline to funnel Canadian oil sands crude across the United States have been the top two targets for environmental groups seeking to hold U.S. President Barack Obama to his pledge to cut greenhouse-gas emissions causing climate change. Although Mr. Obama has pursued an ambitious environmental agenda, he has also tried to balance that by opening up untouched federal water to new exploration.
Shell’s return to the Arctic has significant implications for Canada. A repeat of mishaps that the company experienced there in 2012 could further set back long-stalled plans to unlock resources in the Canadian Beaufort Sea, undermining industry safety claims.
When Shell last drilled in the Chukchi Sea three summers ago, a series of embarrassing failures left its colossal drilling ship Kulluk drifting out of control before it ran aground off Sitkalidak Island. Those setbacks only redoubled the efforts of environmental groups to keep major oil companies from drilling in the Arctic where fierce storms and remoteness from emergency responders in the case of spills pose significant threats.
“It’s outrageous how our own government appears determined to sacrifice our precious Arctic Ocean for Shell’s profits,” said Marissa Knodel, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth. There’s a “75-per-cent chance of a large oil spill [in] this … the largest, loudest and dirtiest exploration plan ever proposed in the American Arctic Ocean,” she added.
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