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Arctic drilling controversy

26 October 2009

The Arctic Ocean could see its first oil drilling in more than a decade in summer 2010, as the U.S. Minerals Management Service has finally allowed Royal Dutch Shell to drill the vast oil deposits below the Arctic sea floor, in Alaska's Beaufort Sea, after years of controversy and delays.

Arctic exploration controversy
Arctic exploration controversy

Environmentalists and local subsistence hunters aren't too pleased; they have been opposed to Shell's attempts to drill in the Beaufort Sea, citing the potential dangers it would pose to wildlife.

Cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic's broken sea ice is next to impossible, and where there is drilling, there are inevitably oil spills. A blow-out like the one that despoiled waters off the coast of Australia would leave oil in the waters off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for decades, killing whales, seals, fish and birds and turning irreplaceable spawning and feeding grounds into an ecological wasteland.

Local groups have also condemned the decision to allow drilling, saying that it will generate industrial levels of noise in the water, and pollute the air and surrounding water.

Bowhead whales are another concern, but Shell has made a concession to small-scale Inuit whalers — the company will begin drilling exploratory wells in July 2010, but will take a break in late August to allow subsistence whale hunts.

Once the whaling season is over, Shell will be allowed to return until October, if ice and weather conditions permit.

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