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Alaska offshore: Interior approves Shell's Beaufort response plan

Alaska Dispatch
Aaron Jansen illustration

According to numerous sources Wednesday, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has announced its approval of the oil spill response plan for Shell's exploratory drilling program in the Beaufort Sea.

Last month, the bureau gave approval for a similar response plan for the company's exploration in the Chukchi Sea. Shell hopes both projects will begin in July.

The Hill's energy and environment blog, E2 Wire, reports that the release noted that the plan was subjected to stricter standards for safety and environmental protection that were instituted in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have conducted an exhaustive review of Shell’s response plan for the Beaufort Sea,” BSEE Director James Watson said in the announcement. “Our focus moving forward will be to hold Shell accountable and to follow-up with exercises, reviews and inspections to ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready.”

Shell called the approval "another major milestone" in its efforts to explore Arctic leases off Alaska's coast.

“It further reinforces that Shell’s approach to Arctic exploration is aligned with the high standards the Department of Interior expects from an offshore leader and adds to our confidence that drilling will finally commence in the shallow waters off Alaska this summer,” Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said in a press release.

The drilling program isn't completely approved, though. Reuters reports that Shell will still need specific well permits to commence drilling this summer. And the Houston Chronicle's Fuel Fix notes the near-certainty of legal challenges from environmental groups.

Read more from E2 Wire, here, from Fuel Fix, here, and from Reuters, here.