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Shell Wins Conditional U.S. Backing for Chukchi Sea Oil Plan

December 16, 2011, 5:06 PM EST

By Jim Snyder

Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) — Royal Dutch Shell Plc won conditional U.S. approval for a plan to drill as many as six exploration wells in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea next year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said.

Final approval requires Shell to meet safety and environmental-protection measures, according to an e-mailed statement today from the Interior Department bureau. Shell will have to stop drilling 38 days before ice appears in the Arctic, to avoid an end-of-the season spill when cleanup is difficult, the agency said. The U.S. projects ice will form by Nov. 1.

“We will continue to work closely with agencies across the federal government to ensure that Shell complies with the conditions we have imposed on its exploration plan,” Tommy Beaudreau, bureau director, said in the statement.

Shell, which has invested about $4 billion in the Arctic leases since 2005, hasn’t drilled any wells in the region while opponents won delays with appeals and lawsuits. Environmental organizations and Alaskan native groups have said it would take too long for equipment to reach the remote and icy region during an oil spill.

Shell acquired its leases to the Chukchi Sea in 2008.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement must approve Shell’s oil-spill response plan before drilling can start, according to the statement.

The company needs permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, according to the statement.

–With assistance from Katarzyna Klimasinska in Washington. Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Snyder in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at [email protected]

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