In a big victory for the petroleum industry, Shell has been granted conditional White House approval to start drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic this summer, the New York Times reports. "We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social, and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives," the director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says in a statement today. "As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards."
It's a move the industry has sought for years, but environmentalists have long pushed for the Obama administration to refuse, noting that an accident and subsequent oil spill could be devastating. While Obama has worked against climate change and made other environmentally-friendly moves, he's also opened other waters for drilling, including a portion of the Atlantic coast just four months ago. Shell, which called the conditional approval "an important milestone," must still get a number of drilling permits approved before full approval is granted. The White House first said Shell could drill offshore in the Arctic in 2012, but after multiple safety and operational problems, it reversed that decision in 2013; regulators have since imposed new safety conditions, Bloomberg reports. But environmentalists say Shell still has not proved its operations will be safe, with the leader of one group calling this a "risky and ill-conceived" plan. (Read more Shell Oil stories.)