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U.S. Gives Conditional OK To Shell Oil For Drilling Off Alaska's Arctic Shore

The Obama administration has given conditional approval to Shell Oil's plan to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this summer. The company wants to resume drilling in the Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska; it broke off that effort in 2012 because of safety problems.

Monday's news is a new sign that Shell could soon recoup some of the several billion dollars it has spent on federal leases and other preparations in recent years.

From Alaska's Aleutian Islands, KUCB's Annie Ropeik reports:

"Now that Shell has the green light from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, it needs actual permits to drill. And agency spokesman John Callahan says the company also has to work around marine mammals in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of Alaska.

" 'Shell does not now have carte blanche to go out and execute this plan,' Callahan says.

"The company's rigs are set to head north next month. Environmental groups say Shell still isn't ready to return to the Arctic, after a series of grounded drill rigs and other mishaps in their 2012 season."

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino tells Ropeik that while getting federal approval is a big milestone, the company still has to get related permits "in a timely manner" so the company can carry out the drilling.

Concerns over Shell's plan range from what to do with drilling wastewater to worries that noise from the operation might disorient whales, Ropeik notes in a blog post for KUCB.

The BOEM says that Shell's revised plan "proposes the drilling of up to six wells within the Burger Prospect, located in approximately 140 feet of water about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright." The agency has posted its environmental assessment and other documents about the project online.

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