Shell Gets Conditional Approval to Start Drilling in the Arctic This Summer

Shell logos outside a petrol station in central London.

Photo by Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Shell Gulf of Mexico is one step closer to being able to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean this summer after the Obama administration conditionally approved its plan on Monday. That’s a big win for Shell, which has spent years campaigning for permission to drill in the Chukchi Sea, a part of the Arctic thought to have plentiful oil and gas reserves. Environmental groups, on the other hand, are much less pleased. From the New York Times:

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.

Before Shell actually starts any drilling, it needs to get federal and state permits. Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told the Times in a statement that the department took a “thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea,” and that moving forward, “any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

Shell, for its part, said it will ensure contractors are well-prepared to drill in the region. That did little to reassure environmentalists, who maintain that Shell hasn’t proven it can operate safely in the Arctic. Because if there’s one thing that industry and environmental groups agree on, it’s that drilling in the Chukchi Sea—where the closest Coast Guard station equipped to respond to a spill is more than 1,000 miles away—is extremely dangerous.