On the heels of Interior Department approval last month granting Shell Oil a preliminary permit to proceed with drilling wells up to 1,400 to 1,500 feet below the sea floor, the only obstacle to exploratory drilling remains certification of Shell's oil-spill containment barge and delivery of the barge off the north coast of Alaska in the Chukshi Sea.
The containment barge and persistent sea ice prevented Shell from performing exploratory drilling this summer. Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said this week that the vessel could be certified and set sail within the week, and once certified, it would take about 14 to 18 days to reach the drilling site.
Final permits would be required from the Interior Department for action beyond the initial prepatory work. Alaska's only Congressman, Don Young (R), told National Journal, "Shell's commitment to Alaska is clear, they have put billions of dollars and countless hours of manpower into this project and obtaining the necessary permits."