Shell has received conditional approval from the White House to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, The New York Times reports. The oil company is allowed to start exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas later this summer.
The plan submitted by Shell has been in the works since 2011; it has been revising the plan with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management since then. The most recent version proposes the drilling of up to six wells within the Burger Prospect, an oil-rich area in roughly 140 feet of water 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright.
One ship has given Shell trouble in the past
Shell will use a semi-submersible drilling unit called the Transocean Polar Pioneer and a drillship called the Noble Discoverer — the same one that caught fire in 2012. That incident took place in the same area in the Arctic that Shell was just approved for and, along with an oil containment system failure, prompted an investigation by Interior Department. Two years later, Noble Drilling pleaded guilty to eight felony charges related to the accidents.
Just last week, Vice reported that the same anti-pollution equipment that failed in 2012 suffered another failure, and the Noble Discoverer was subsequently locked in a detention hold in Honolulu until it was fixed. A Shell spokesman told Vice that it was just "a case of mechanical repairs, which, from time to time, are required on any equipment."
To get today's approval, Shell had to create a contingency plan for a spill or rig malfunction, according to The New York Times.
The news comes just a few months after the Interior Department first proposed regulations to allow exploratory drilling. And while seasonal conditions in the Arctic mean that drilling can typically only be done between July and October, it's thought that a reduction of the ice due to climate change could start an Arctic drilling boom.
Shell isn't fully approved yet
According to the statement, Shell is still required to obtain necessary permits from other state and federal agencies. Those include drill permits and making sure that the drilling complies with the Endangered Species Act.
The plan will also certainly face loads of criticism, some of which is already rolling in. David Yarnold, president of the Audubon Society (a group known for its burns), has already released a statement calling the plan a "phony deal."
"Issuing this first permit is a slippery slope that could lead to environmental catastrophe for birds, other wildlife, and people," he says. "Is today’s ruling just bad policy, cynical, or politically motivated? How about all of the above?"