The US government has announced $2.7 billion in winning bids for oil drilling rights in 2.8 million acres of Alaska's frozen Chukchi Sea, despite angry objections of lawmakers and environmentalists. The bids include a record $105 million offer from Shell for a single 9-square-mile tract. Environmental groups say the exploration will endanger walruses, bowhead whales and polar bears, already suffering the impact of global warming. A tenth of the world's population of polar bears live in the region.
The government is expected this week to officially classify polar bears as endangered because of climate change. The area may produce billions of barrels of oil ands trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. "This is a tremendous opportunity, and with that comes a tremendous responsibility to Alaska and the offshore area," said a Shell executive. But one lawmaker warned that drilling risks "the potential decimation of the polar bear in Alaska."