The federal government on Monday gave Royal Dutch Shell the final permit it needs to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s northwest coast for the first time in more than two decades.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced that it approved the permit to drill below the ocean floor after the oil giant brought in a required piece of equipment to stop a possible well blowout.
The agency previously allowed Shell to begin drilling only the top sections of two wells in the Chukchi Sea because the key equipment, called a capping stack, was stuck on a vessel that needed repair in Portland, Oregon.
Because the vessel arrived last week, Shell is free to drill into oil-bearing rock, estimated at 8,000 feet below the ocean floor, for the first time since its last exploratory well was drilled in 1991.
“Activities conducted offshore Alaska are being held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards,” agency Director Brian Salerno said in a statement Monday. “We will continue to monitor their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship.”
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said it’s possible Shell will complete a well this summer. But he declined to say how deep the Polar Pioneer has drilled or exactly when drill bits might enter the petroleum-bearing zone.