Just months after protecting 12.3 million acres of Alaskan wilderness from drilling, the Obama administration has given Shell the green light to drill for oil in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast. We reported last month that the request was pending review from the Interior Department and CNN reports that the a statement issued grants conditional approval to allow Shell to start drilling in the Chukchi Sea. Shell will be able to resume drilling as soon as it meets several environmental conditions, which include an assessment of the impact on endangered species, as well as a approval by state agencies. The agency said the drilling wouldn’t happen without “rigorous safety standards” and a long review process.

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According to Abigail Ross Hopper, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency took a “thoughtful approach” to Shell’s longstanding requests for permits to drill in the Arctic. The approval means Shell, if they acquire the necessary permits still pending, will be the only company allowed to drill in the federal waters of the Arctic.

Related: Obama quietly approved Arctic drilling amid controversy and environmental concerns

As expected, environmentalists are very concerned about this decision by the federal government. “Instead of holding Shell accountable and moving the country towards a sustainable future, our federal regulators are catering to an ill-prepared company in a region that does not tolerate cutting corners,” said Tim Donaghy, senior research specialist for Greenpeace.

The decision to approve the drilling for the estimated 20 billion barrels of oil and 90 trillion cubic feet of natural gas seems to fly in the face of the Obama administration’s recent moves toward renewable energy and reduced carbon emissions–including new regulations for coal burning and limits on greenhouse gas emissions.


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