Shell Clears Wildlife Hurdle, One Step Closer to Arctic Drilling

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May 3, 2012

Royal Dutch Shell is one step closure to drilling in the Arctic this summer after securing a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, proving to federal regulators that its operations will not harm whales and seals.

The permit, known as an “incidental harassment authorization”, was announced Wednesday by Shell and NOAA’s Fisheries Service and are required before Shell can begin begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas this summer. The permit was granted based on the conditions that Shell can abide by specified measures to protect marine mammals and the subsistence interests of Alaskan Natives.

“We’re issuing these authorizations to Shell after conducting extensive scientific review and considering public comments,” said Sam Rauch, acting assistant administrator of NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “Shell will be required to put in place a number of mitigation measures that reduce or eliminate direct impacts to these animals and any negative effects on the ability of Alaskan Natives to conduct subsistence hunts for marine mammals.”

The permit requires that Shell must use trained observers to monitor and record animal behavior, lower ship speeds when marine mammals are known to be present, communicate with natives about exploratory activities and vessel routes, and promise to suspend operations where and when natives are hunting.

Shell efforts to start drilling in the arctic have met tough opposition from both environmentalists and the U.S. regulators.  Shell still needs to obtain approvals from the Interior Department and Fish and Wildlife Service before it gets the go-ahead to begin operations this summer.

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