WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is weighing whether to allow Shell to resume drilling in Arctic waters after a series of mishaps halted its controversial oil exploration effort last year.
The decision is among the toughest issues faced by new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who portrays herself as both an advocate for the environment and a supporter of drilling.
Jewell’s predecessor, Ken Salazar, allowed Shell to drill in the Arctic waters north of Alaska last year, only to later say the company “screwed up.”
Interior Department spokeswoman Kate Kelly said Wednesday that drilling won’t resume until the agency has confidence that the effort addresses lessons learned.
A dozen environmental groups wrote the Interior Department this week, complaining that Shell’s new exploration plan fails to show how the company would avoid problems it had during last year’s drilling season.
Shell put forth the new exploration plan earlier this month. The document says, “Shell’s 2012 exploration drilling operations in the Arctic were conducted safely, and with no serious injuries or environmental impact.”
The company hopes to resume drilling, possibly as soon as the coming year. Shell filed the exploration plan to keep open the chance of 2014 drilling but said the issue of safety will determine when it returns to the Arctic.
Shell experienced a series of problems and accidents last year, among them the grounding of a drilling rig, the Kulluk, which was stuck for several days off Kodiak Island. The Coast Guard said it found 16 safety and environmental violations on the other drilling rig used by Shell, the Noble Discoverer, which the company hopes to use again if allowed to resume drilling in Arctic waters.