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Democrats and environmentalists push to kill Shell’s Arctic drilling project home

Interior secretary due to give final approvals to Alaska exploration despite intense pressure from Congress and environmental groups

Suzanne Goldenberg 26 May 2010 23.12 BST

Shell is planning a drilling project in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the northern coast of Alaska. Photograph: Delphine Star/Getty Images

The Obama administration is coming under intense pressure from Democrats in Congress and environmentalists to shelve a Shell offshore drilling project in the Arctic.

The interior secretary, Ken Salazar, is due to give final approvals this week to a Shell exploration project in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the northern coast of Alaska. He told Congress today that new regulations would help assure greater safety. “We need to move forward with oil and gas development,” he said. “Nothing in life is risk-free … How do you create a program that does in fact minimize those risks?”

Work on the Shell project could get underway as early as July, and environmental groups say the administration has approved nearly 700 other projects in the Arctic.

Shell paid $2.1bn for exploration rights in the Chukchi sea, and the region is believed to have 15 bn barrels of recoverable oil.

A coalition of environmental groups argues that the potential consequences of a spill are even higher than in the Gulf, because of the icy water and the extremely remote settings. The nearest US coast guard facility is 1,000 miles away, and local villages do not have the infrastructure to put on a large-scale response, the groups argue.

Native Alaskan leaders have also protested against the project.

The New York Times has demanded a stay, in an editorial arguing it made no sense to go ahead with drilling in an even more environmentally sensitive area until the safety issues that led to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico had been resolved.


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