On March 31, President Barack Obama‘s administration renewed the 2008 Arctic lease sale. That decision started a 30-day clock for the Interior Department to review Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling plans. The oil company has already invested nearly $6 billion exploring the arctic waters for possible drilling sites, and they have oil rigs headed toward Alaska at the time of this report, indicating the oil execs may be feeling pretty confident about getting the go-ahead to resume drilling this summer.
Supporters of arctic drilling efforts, including the President, claim that some environmental destruction is a worthwhile trade for lessening our dependence on foreign oil. However, it’s difficult to determine how much of an environmental impact the administration will stomach. When a massive Shell oil rig ran ground in 2012 in the region, the company was fined for pollution and critics challenged Obama’s decision to allow the drilling in the first place.
Shell took a hiatus from arctic drilling starting in 2013, but was allowed to continue exploratory ventures. With Shell poised to return to off-shore drilling, pending approval by the Interior Department, environmentalists say another disaster is just a matter of time.
The question remains: why must such a remote, hard-to-reach region as the Arctic be a target for oil drilling? Estimates indicate that the oil reserves there are not likely to measure up against other sources, at least not for the next 10 to 30 years. With global crude prices relatively low right now, many wonder why oil companies are not tabling plans to extract comparatively small amounts of oil from difficult areas. That said, the Alaska oil pipeline has been operating at only 25 percent capacity due to the decline of Alaskan oil output. So, some argue that Obama could be making a strategic move in considering another large customer for the great state of Alaska.