U.S. government regulators have conditionally approved Shell Exploration’s plans to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska. Drilling could begin as early as next July.
The decision is a setback for various environmental groups and indigenous people, who are concerned that drilling activity and the potential for oil spills in the icy region could threaten a highly sensitive ecosystem that is home to whales, seals, walruses, polar bears, and migratory seabirds.
Shell and Alaska’s U.S. senators praised the decision, which brings Shell a big step closer to drilling after years of legal battles. Shell must still clear some regulatory hurdles, including developing an oil spill response plan.
Holly Harris, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the decision could open a warming Arctic to an unprecedented level of oil drilling, adding, “This is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations issued a report that criticized Shell and the Nigerian government for contributing to 50 years of oil pollution in the Niger delta. The UN said that reversing damage there would be the world’s largest oil clean-up, costing at least $1 billion and taking up to 30 years.
Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.