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Shell gets permits necessary for oil drilling in Arctic

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has given Royal Dutch Shell PLC approval to begin limited exploratory oil drilling off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The two permits issued Wednesday clear the way for drilling in Chukchi Sea, but with conditions.

Shell can only drill the top sections of wells because the company doesn’t have on site the critical emergency response equipment to cap the well in case of a leak. That equipment is aboard a ship headed to Portland, Oregon, for repairs.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a statement that Shell could submit an amended application for deeper drilling when the capping stack can be deployed within 24 hours.

“Without question, activities conducted offshore Alaska must be held to the highest safety, environmental protection and emergency response standards,” said the bureau’s director, Brian Salerno.

The department had given a conditional OK in May to Shell’s drilling plan, pending the company’s ability to obtain all necessary permits from state and federal agencies.

Some environmental groups worry the Arctic’s remoteness and rugged conditions will hamper cleanup efforts in the event of a spill, risking devastation of a fragile ecosystem.

Proponents say drilling can be conducted safely with existing technologies and that future production decades from now will help sustain the country’s energy needs and limit reliance on imports.

Shell and other companies hope to tap into one of the country’s last great petroleum reserves. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic offshore reserves in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas at 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

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