The Obama administration has decided to allow Shell to drill in Arctic waters off the Alaska coast, saying that for the time being the company must not go so deep as to hit actual oil because its troubled oil spill containment barge isn’t ready.
Thursday’s decision to allow preparatory drilling represents a huge step in Shell’s controversial effort to explore in the Chukchi Sea. It shows the Obama administration, while not yet giving the green light for Shell to drill into oil-bearing geologic formations, is taking steps to help the company do so if possible this summer.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Shell will get a permit allowing it to drill about 1,500 feet into the seafloor.
“We believe that there is no oil in that area. We have confidence in that conclusion, otherwise we would not be allowing this limited exploratory effort to move forward,” Salazar said Thursday.
Interior Department officials said the drilling will allow for the later installation of a blowout preventer.
This logic follows building only the southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline.