From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published September 10, 2012 04:44 PM

Shell begins offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic

With the approval of the Obama Administration, Royal Dutch Shell began drilling into the ocean floor of the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska yesterday morning. The controversial operation, which has been vehemently opposed by environmental and Native groups, will likely only last a few weeks this year until the Arctic winter sets in. The U.S. government has said that Shell must complete operations by September 24th, however the oil giant has asked for an extension.

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"We look forward to continued drilling progress throughout the next several weeks and to adding another chapter to Alaska’s esteemed oil and gas history," Shell wrote in an online statement. " We're proud to be offshore Alaska, and we're extremely proud of the preparation we've put in place to do it right."

Extreme weather, floating ice, and remoteness are just a few of the challenges that faces any fossil fuel exploitation in the Arctic, and environmental groups say Shell hasn't proven itself ready to drill safely. The oil giant, which spent $4 billion on Arctic oil drilling, has suffered costly and embarrassing delays all year, including an oil spill containment barge which is still harbored in Washington State and undergoing retrofitting.

For its part, the environmental group, Greenpeace, has been conducting a protracted, multi-pronged campaign against Shell and other fossil fuel companies in the Arctic. To date, the group has gathered 1.7 million signatures to declare a global sanctuary in the Arctic, which would prohibit oil drilling and industrial fishing.

Shell has succeeded in obtaining a restraining order against Greenpeace, fearing that the group will try to interrupt its oil operations as it has attempted with other companies.

Article continues at ENN affiliate, Mongabay

Image credit: Gary Braasch

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