Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic oil exploration plans have been dealt a major blow after the Obama administration cited wildlife protections that prevent the company from drilling two wells into the Chukchi Sea this summer.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a letter spelling out details of a 2013 regulation, highlighting that companies could not place two drilling rigs within 15 miles of each other, Reuters reported. This was put in place to protect animals in the area — walruses, polar bears, and other mammals — that are sensitive to the sound of drilling activity. Walruses, for example, are said to plunge into the sea during drilling, endangering the population.
The letter forces Shell to reevaluate its intention of using two drills off Alaska, which are currently about nine miles apart. The company had plans to invest $1 billion in its Arctic project this year, adding to the $6 billion the company has already spent over the past eight years. Shell told Fuel Fix that the company intends to move ahead with its plan: “We are evaluating the letter of authorization issued today and will continue to pursue the 2015 program,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith. “That includes drilling in the Chukchi Sea once open water permits.”
Environmentalists will count this as a small win in their battle to shelf the drilling project. “We think the Department of the Interior needs to rescind its approval because it was predicated on this double-drilling (scenario),” Earthjustice staff attorney Erik Grafe said to Fuel Fix.