In what the New York Times is calling “a devastating blow” to environmentalists, the Obama Administration has approved drilling for oil in the delicate Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska.
The conditional approval given to Shell Gulf of Mexico means that drilling for oil and gas in the Chukchi sea will begin this summer.
The decision has broken a stalemate over whether drilling in the delicate region would be safe enough to protect the Arctic ecosystem.
Environmentalists say a spill in arctic waters could be impossible to clean up. Petroleum companies say that ignoring the region would deprive the world of huge oil and gas reserves.
“As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said in a statement.
Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s vice president for the United States, recently called the Arctic Ocean “the worst possible place we could allow drilling given its remoteness, extended darkness and icy conditions.
“There is no good reason to sell more leases in the Arctic Ocean, where companies such as Shell have proven so clearly that drilling can’t be done safely,” Savitz said in a statement commemorating the 5th Anniversary of the BP?Deepwater Horizon oil spill that despoiled the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 rig workers.
Savitz also decried drilling in the Atlantic — which the Obama Administration also recently approved — because it could destroy marine life and ruin coastal communities for decades.
Commercial fishing, tourism and recreation will all suffer both from the routine leaks caused by ocean oil drilling and from the still present danger of another Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Savitz said.