Published: November 5, 2010
HOUSTON — Eager to win approval for its stalled plan to drill for oilin the Alaskan Arctic, Royal Dutch Shell is beginning a public lobbying campaign, including national advertising, on Monday. As part of the effort, the giant oil company is promising to make unprecedented preparations to prevent the kind of disaster that polluted the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.
Shell’s plan to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas has been snarled in regulatory delays and lawsuits for four years. The company has already invested $3.5 billion in the projects, and it was close to overcoming the final regulatory hurdlesto begin drilling when BP’s Macondo well blew out April 20, killing 11 rig workers and spilling millions of barrels of oil into the gulf.
In response to the gulf accident, the Obama administration suspended most new offshore drilling, including in the environmentally sensitive waters of the Arctic.
But now that the moratorium on gulf drilling has been lifted, Shell is pressing the Interior Department to grant final approval for its Arctic projects by the end of this year so that the company has enough time to move the necessary equipment to drill next summer, when the waters offshore are free of ice.
“Every day we’re delayed, we’re delaying jobs and energy development,” Peter Slaiby, Shell’s vice president for Alaska, said in an interview.
“It’s a crushing irony that the Gulf of Mexico moratorium is lifted and we are not allowed to move forward.”
The gulf disaster raised public and government awareness of the risks of catastrophic spills from offshore wells. The waters off Alaska are considered particularly tricky because of the long periods of daytime darkness, periods of months when ice would block the movement of relief ships and the fragility of ocean habitats for whales, polar bears and other species.