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US gives Shell the final approval it needs to drill for oil in the Arctic

The US Arctic waters contain about 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil

Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

The US government has given Royal Dutch Shell the final approval it needs to drill for oil below the Arctic Ocean floor, off Alaska's northwest coast. Shell plans to drill two exploration wells before late September, when the open-water season ends.

US officials approved the permit after Shell bought technology that should help avoid well blowouts. Shell had previously only been allowed to drill the top sections of the two wells located in the Chukchi Sea because an important piece of equipment — called the "capping stack" — needed to be repaired in Portland, Oregon, reports the Associated Press. Now that the icebreaker carrying the equipment has made it to Alaska, Shell is free to drill at about 8,000 feet below the ocean floor for the first time in over 20 years.

"We will continue to monitor their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship," Brian Salerno, Director of the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said in a statement.

"We will continue to monitor their work around the clock."

The oil giant has faced a lot of opposition from environmental activists over its activities in the Arctic. Last month, Greenpeace activists tried to stop Shell's vessel from leaving Portland by dangling themselves from a bridge, blocking the icebreaker's path. They managed to stall the vessel for a while, but the ship made it through after law-enforcement officials removed three of the 13 activists dangling from the bridge.

Shell has already spent over $7 billion on exploration in the Chukchi Sea and in the Beaufort Sea, off Alaska's north coast. The US Arctic waters contain about 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil, according to the US Geological Survey.