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In another beat-down to environmentalists, Shell oil company on Thursday received preliminary approval from the US Department of the Interior to begin drilling exploratory oil wells in waters off of northern Alaska starting next summer.

Despite the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, despite a total inability to clean up even much smaller spills on sea ice, drilling may begin in a year.

Now, this is certainly not a done deal, and you can be assured that pro-environmental organizations will wear out the court systems before drilling ever begins.

But still.....

According to the New York Times, drilling is

a strong sign that the Obama administration is easing a regulatory clampdown on offshore oil drilling that it imposed after last year’s deadly accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

The move confirms a willingness by President Obama to approve expanded domestic oil and gas exploration in response to high gasoline prices and continuing high levels of unemployment.

According to the story, Shell will be granted four exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea. They also hope to drill in the Chuckchi Sea but drills in that part of the Arctic Ocean were not considered in today's ruling.

Cindy Shogan, head of Alaska Wilderness League, wrote a piece in Huffington Post last week that sums up the issues far better than I can:

Shell is pushing an aggressive plan to drill 10 wells in the Arctic's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas that more often than not, are covered in thick, vast sheets of ice. As part of its expensive and slick public relations campaign, Shell claims that it has "perfected" Arctic oil spill response. The oil giant's oil spill response plan for the Arctic states that it would be able to clean up 90 percent of the oil in the event of a spill in the Arctic. On the contrary, taking into account the Arctic's extreme weather conditions and broken ice, the amount of oil that could be cleaned up is actually somewhere between 1 and 20 percent, according to a comprehensive study by the federal government's scientific arm.

Audubon Alaska says:

Neither the State of Alaska nor federal government has any documents showing that a company has demonstrated in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas that it can respond effectively to an oil spill. Even in the relatively benign conditions of the Gulf, only 10% of spilled oil was recovered after the Deepwater Horizon spill, and these technologies have changed little since the Exxon Valdez spill, after which only 8% of the oil spilled was recovered. Similarly, response to the spill in the Yellowstone River has been ineffective, and other response options, including burning and dispersants, are likewise unproven and potentially dangerous.

As many of you know, I was formerly the editor of the Valdez (AK) newspaper. I've seen the oil facilities from Prudhoe ice to tankers on Prince William Sound. I've seen the damage, the lying, the pollution that the oil industry offers Alaska along with the jobs.

I'm not anti-oil, and recognize that our society uses massive amounts of oil daily, and will do so for a long time to come. Still, we need to be weaning off of oil, not finding new places to spoil.

There are some places that just should be left alone, and the waters of northern Alaska is one of those very large places.

A spill in these places could cause irreparable harm to the villages of Barrow, Point Hope, Point Lay, and others. If the fisheries supporting these towns is killed off, many thousands of people will lose their homes, their lives, their ways of life.

Drilling off the North Slope will be done in some of the harshest climates on earth, with waters icebound for much of the year. A spill in the Arctic Ocean will simply never be cleaned up.

Not even Fishgrease would be able to boom off this place.

Originally posted to Senor Unoball on Thu Aug 04, 2011 at 03:34 PM PDT.

Also republished by Gulf Watchers Group.

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