Shell gets OK to drill in Arctic

Feds unfreeze drilling permits

Despite strong objections by environmentalists, the Obama administration recently announced tentative approval for oil giant Royal Dutch Shell to begin exploratory drilling off the Arctic coast next year, according to media reports.

Permits to explore in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea (pictured) were frozen following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April 2010, but the government decided to pursue new leases recently after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave the go-ahead pending Shell’s completion of an oil-spill response plan. Shell has already spent close to $4 billion in its attempt to secure the right to drill in the Arctic, and claims to be ready for any problem.

The company is being warned of legal challenges by Alaskan native and environmental groups, who have long argued that extreme conditions in the Arctic would make drilling dangerous, and oil-spill cleanup efforts next to impossible. Conservationists have also expressed concerns that drilling could put the area’s beluga whales, polar bears, migrating birds and other species at risk.