[JURIST] The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement [official website] announced [press release] on Monday that it has approved a permit for Royal Dutch Shell [official website] to drill off the coast of Alaska in the Arctic Ocean. Shell was approved because it acquired a piece of equipment designed to shut an oil well in the event of an emergency loss of control. Shell is prohibited from maintaining active drill rigs less than 15 miles apart to avoid negatively affecting the walrus population in the Arctic. The drilling will take place at the Burger Prospect [environmental assessment; PDF] in 140 feet of water approximately 70 miles northwest of Wainwright. The US Department of the Interior [official website] has also released [press release] proposed regulations to ensure the safety of future drilling activities in the US Arctic Continental Shelf [NOAA backgrounder].
Drilling for and exporting oil has been a contentious topic in recent years. Last week the US government began lifting a ban [JURIST report] on crude oil trade with Mexico. In March the US Senate failed to override President Barack Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, a proposal that had generated significant controversy [JURIST reports]. Expansion [WP report] of the existing Keystone pipeline would allow for the transmission of 830,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the tar sand producing regions of Alberta, Canada to refining facilities on the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada [corporate website], the company seeking to build the pipeline, indicates [project website] that this development would support crude oil production in the Bakken Shale formation, which lies primarily in North Dakota and Montana, and that it is crucial to energy security in the US. Under US law, TransCanada must receive a permit from the US Department of State [official website] because the project crosses the US-Canada border. According to the State Department, Executive Order 13337 [text; PDF] grants the Secretary of State “the power to decide whether a project serves the national interest before granting a Presidential Permit.” If a presidential permit is granted, construction of the project can commence.