The Obama administration has “conditionally” approved Royal Dutch Shell's return to oil drilling in the US Arctic for the first time since 2012 on Monday.
Shell has already spent $6 billion for its exploration plan in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. As part of the approval, Shell must obtain permits from the federal government and the state of Alaska before starting to drill this summer.
Environmental groups have raised concerns about drilling in an area where there is little capacity for emergency response. They also argue that the process could cause an environmental disaster.
“Shell has a history of dangerous malfunctioning in the Arctic while global scientists agree that Arctic oil must stay in the ground if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change,” Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist at Greenpeace, told the British paper the Guardian.
The environmentalists draw attention to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill that killed 11 people and spilled nearly 5m barrels of crude oil into the ocean. They say drilling in remote Arctic area would be more dangerous. The closest Coast Guard base is more than 1,000 miles (1600 km) away from the drilling area.
The approval cleared a major obstacle for the giant oil company but the city of Seattle and activists plan to fight back. Seattle's mayor announced last week that the Port of Seattle would need to get another permit to host Shell's Arctic drilling rigs. Shell needs to park in Seattle especially to facilitate pipe loading among other complex procedures.
Activists plan to hold "festival of resistance" this weekend aiming to block the ship's movements.
The move came just four months after the Obama administration opened up a portion of the Atlantic coast to new offshore drilling.
According to the U.S. Geological Service, as much as 30 percent of the world’s untapped natural resources are found in the Arctic region. Supporters of drilling call this undeveloped basin a "potential game-changer" that could increase domestic supply by over 1 million new barrels of oil per day.