The Obama administration so far has stymied big oil’s efforts to move on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, but the trade-off is a sure victory for Shell in the Alaskan Arctic.
Unless environmental groups come up with a last-minute game-changing maneuver, Shell will begin test-drilling in the Alaskan Arctic in July, much to the dismay of Native Alaskans, who are concerned about the implications to the northern coast’s wildlife and shorelines.
Speaking at the Norway Arctic Roundtable on 26 June, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stated: “Many of you know that we are currently in the final stages of a rigorous review of Shell’s proposal to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas this summer. If Shell meets our standards and passes our inspections, its exploration activities will be conducted under the closest oversight and most rigorous safety standards ever implemented.”
This statement is diplomatic fluff for what is already a done deal. Shell is already preparing to install two exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea.
Shell has been relentless, as always, spending some $4 billion in lobbying for Alaskan Arctic drilling. The Obama administration has also been relentless, and Shell’s ride to the Arctic has not been a free one in terms of intangible costs. The company has had to pay lip service to the climate change crew.
Obama’s Arctic gamble, however, is a risky one. In 2010, as a direct response to the devastating spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a presidential moratorium was issued on new offshore oil and gas leases. Another BP-style oil spill would be devastating environmentally and politically, but it will not happen on his watch.