Having been granted permission by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) yesterday (17 August), Shell can begin exploratory operations into potential oil bearing zones in the Chukchi Sea of the coast of Alaska.

The move comes after the icebreaker ship Fennica, which carries emergency well-capping equipment, arrived at the site.

BSEE director Brian Salerno said: “Activities conducted offshore Alaska are being held to the highest safety, environmental protection and emergency response standards.”

Shell’s drilling is the company’s first Arctic Ocean operation since its unsuccessful drilling attempt in 2012, which ended with the evacuation of 18 crew members from the company’s Kulluk drilling platform on New Years Eve.

The drilling had been previously delayed when the Fennica damaged its hull on uncharted shoal on 3 July, forcing it to turn back for repairs.

Environmental protesters from Greenpeace blocked the progress of the Fennica from Portland harbour in Oregon, abseiling down from the St John’s Bridge to halt the icebreakers journey earlier this month.

Obama announcement

The announcement of the drilling operation came just days after President Barack Obama released a video previewing a trip to Alaska, when he will become the first sitting President to visit the state.

The video highlighted the need to tackle climate change, but with the confirmation of drilling operations this week some green activists have accused the President of hypocrisy.

In the White House video, the President says: “The state’s [Alaska’s] God-given natural treasures are at risk. When I’m there, I’ll meet with Americans who are dealing with climate change every day, and I’ll talk with other nations about how we can tackle this challenge together.”

Climate hypocrisy

In the wake of the final confirmation of the Alaskan drilling, Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said: “The President cannot have it both ways. Announcing a tour of Alaska to highlight climate change days before giving Shell the final approval to drill in the Arctic Ocean is deeply hypocritical.”

The former head of BP Lord Browne said in a BBC Radio 4 interview last week Shell’s drilling operation required the firm to be careful of their long-term reputation.

“Some companies will genuinely believe – they may be right – that they can produce oil safely and environmentally securely in extraordinary conditions,” said Lord Browne.

In a statement earlier this month Shell said: “We remain committed to operating safely and responsibly and adding to Shell’s long history of exploration in offshore Alaska.”

Clean power

The progress for Shell’s drilling operations comes as Reuters reported yesterday (August 17) the US Environmental Protection Agency is planning to release new plans for cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by up to 45% over the next decade, compared to 2012 levels.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced his Clean Power Plan, which will aim to cut the US’s carbon emissions by 32% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

Obama hailed the move as “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

Matt Field

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