Obama administration says animal protection laws prevent Shell from drilling with two rigs simultaneously at a close range
The Obama administration has dealt a setback to Royal Dutch Shell's Arctic oil exploration plans, saying established walrus and polar bear protections prevent the company from drilling with two rigs simultaneously at a close range, as it had planned.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service issued Shell a permit which emphasized that under federal wildlife protections issued in 2013, companies must maintain a 15-mile buffer between two rigs drilling simultaneously.
The rule is meant to protect populations of animals sensitive to the sounds and activities of drilling. Walruses have been known to plunge off rocks into the sea during drilling, putting their populations at risk. The animals are already at risk from reduced habitat areas due to global warming. Drilling with only one rig at a time could slash the amount of work Shell had hoped to accomplish.
Shell is evaluating the permit and "will continue to pursue" its drilling plan, spokesman Curtis Smith said. "Our goal is to safely accomplish as much work as we can before the end of open water season."
The return of ice in late September ends the drilling season.
In Shell's 2015 Arctic drilling plan, no two of its wells are more than 15 miles apart. Two of the wells it had been planning to drill in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska are about nine miles apart.
The move came the same day that Shell began to send the Noble Discoverer, the second of two drilling rigs up to Alaska from the Seattle area, for drilling from late July until late September. The company is hoping to return to Arctic drilling for the first time since its mishap-plagued 2012 season.
Shell can still drill this summer, if it gets a few more permits required under a conditional plan the administration approved in May, the Interior Department said.