Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday that Royal Dutch Shell would be allowed to start “certain limited preparatory activities” for oil drilling in the environmentally sensitive waters off Alaska’s northwest coast.
Salazar said that Shell can now construct what is known as a mud-line cellar, a 40-foot-deep structure needed to install a blowout preventer, a device that can help head off spills. He said Shell would also be allowed to drill a “top hole” as deep as 1,400 feet and set steel pipe and concrete.
“Today’s action does not authorize Shell to drill into oil-bearing reservoirs,” Salazar said. The most shallow of those reservoirs are about 4,000 feet deeper, Shell said.
The partial go-ahead was given to Shell because time is running out on the open-water season before the ice returns and prevents drilling. Shell is scrambling to drill one or two wells, though it had initially hoped to complete five or six in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas this year.