The Obama administration has given permission to Shell Oil to begin what it calls "preparatory work" in its controversial effort to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday the permission will allow Shell to install a blowout preventer ahead of exploratory oil drilling. The preparatory work involves drilling to install the needed equipment, but the drilling will avoid pockets of oil and gas, Salazar said.
"It is our highest priority that any activities that occur offshore Alaska be held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards," said James A. Watson, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
"Today's announcement authorizes Shell to move forward with limited activities well short of oil-bearing zones that can be done safely now prior to the certification and arrival of the containment system."
Shell had planned to drill up to five exploratory Arctic wells over the summer but has scaled back plans to one or two. So far, no new wells have been drilled.