Shell Gets Final Approval To Drill Into Oil-Bearing Rock in the Chukchi

The Fennica and its yellow capping stack in Alaska's Dutch Harbor on July 18. (KUCB/John Ryan photo)
The Fennica and its yellow capping stack in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor on July 18. (KUCB/John Ryan photo)

The Obama administration approved Arctic oil drilling Monday.

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The Interior Department gave final approval to Shell Oil to drill into oil-bearing rocks at the company’s “Burger J” drilling site. The company has until late September to complete this summer’s exploratory drilling. Megan Baldino is a Shell spokesperson:

“Our plan is to make the most of the time that we have in theater, and whatever we don’t accomplish this summer, we can potentially… do in 2016.”

Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig began drilling on July 30.  But Shell couldn’t get permission to drill into oil-bearing layers until its missing icebreaker and the well-capping stack on its stern returned from the Lower 48. Greg Julian is a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

“Now that the capping stack is on hand, Shell is allowed to drill into potential oil-bearing zones, [at the Burger J site.]” BSEE spokesman Greg Julian said.

Federal inspectors have been living on board both of Shell’s Arctic drill rigs for the past two weeks of shallow drilling.

“Nothing noteworthy to report,” Julian said. “Things are going smoothly.”

That icebreaker, the Fennica, hit a rock on its way out of Dutch Harbor on July 3. It then sailed to Oregon for repairs. Greenpeace protesters swinging beneath a Portland bridge further delayed the Fennica. Environmentalists reacted with dismay to the Obama administration’s announcement. [Today’s/Monday’s] Approval of Arctic oil drilling comes a few days after the president announced that his upcoming visit to Alaska would focus on his push to fight climate change.

Annie Leonard is the head of Greenpeace USA.

“Obama’s relation with climate is a little schizophrenic… doesn’t make sense to recognize what a serious problem climate change is and then….drilling in the Arctic. You’re either on one side or the other.”

The President will visit Alaska at the end of this month. The White House video promoting Obama’s trip as part of his legacy of leadership on protecting the climate did not mention his Administration’s support for Arctic drilling.