Shell won two victories in its effort to push ahead with offshore drilling, winning approvals for an exploration plan in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea and for a new development well in the Gulf of Mexico.
All five of the floating rigs that Shell was operating in the gulf before last year’s BP oil spill and drilling moratorium are now back to work, the company said.
The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement gave Shell a permit to drill a deepwater well in the Europa field in 4,000 feet of water about 140 miles southeast of New Orleans.
The American Petroleum Institute has complained vociferously that the Obama administration has been slow to grant new drilling permits and bring drilling activity in the gulf back to earlier levels. The administration has said that in the wake of last year’s massive spill it has been moving as expeditiously as possible given heightened environmental concerns and new standards.
BOEMRE also gave conditional approval to Shell’s revised exploration plan for the Beaufort Sea, where the company hopes to drill at least two wells next summer during the four-month period when the area is largely free from ice. Shell also hopes to drill at least three wells in the Chukchi Sea farther west along Alaska's coast. The company still needs several other approvals before it can begin.
The environmental group Earthjustice condemned the approval as “a dangerous and disappointing leap towards drilling in the remote and fragile waters of America’s Arctic Ocean.”
“Shell’s drilling risks a major oil spill, and neither Shell nor the government could respond to such a catastrophe,” Earthjustice said in a statement.