President Obama has disappointed a slew of environmental activists by giving Shell the green light yesterday to drill deeper in the Arctic for oil, Quartz reports. The approval issued by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement expands the oil company's current permissions, allowing it to drill even further down into the Chukchi Sea after proper safety gear was installed, the Hill reports. But the decision is being decried by already active critics as the president's trip to Alaska to talk about climate change looms later this month. Greenpeace USA's executive director calls the move "deeply hypocritical," per Politico. "President Obama should know better—Shell has no business in our Arctic Ocean, and he will bear responsibility for the damage that Shell wreaks there," a rep for Friends of the Earth says, while the executive director of the Sierra Club adds the decision "goes against science, the will of the people and common sense," per the Hill.
An April Reuters article proffered theories why this may be happening: For one, onshore shale oil production may start to fall off in a few decades, and it may take that long to build up sufficient reserves of Arctic oil. Energy companies could also reap the benefits of lower-emissions gas in the region, and the president may be able to gain a strategic advantage over Russia and China by starting now. A Shell rep tells Politico: "We remain committed to operating in a safe, environmentally responsible manner and look forward to evaluating what could potentially become a national energy resource base." That's not swaying environmentalists. "President Obama is willing to allow the pristine Chukchi Sea to become an energy sacrifice zone," the Friends of the Earth rep says, per Quartz. (A New York Times writer likens the decision to "tobacco companies … applying for permission to put cigarette machines in cancer wards.")