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Shell can start drilling preparations in Alaska's Chukchi Sea

The Associated Press

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says Royal Dutch Shell will be allowed to begin preparation work at exploratory drilling sites in the Chukchi.

Salazar says the company has been authorized to dig what are called mud-line cellars in the ocean floor to protect blowout preventers that would be installed later below the sea floor level.

The company also will be allowed to drill small pilot holes down to about 1,400 feet.

Writing on Seattle PI's 'Strange Bedfellows' blog, political columnist Joel Connelly summarized the announcements from the Interior Department press conference as follows:

“Today’s action does not allow Shell to drill into oil bearing zones,” Salazar added. He described exploration in Arctic waters as showing promise of “economic opportunity” and as a key component of the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy.

Connelly adds that a key component of the Chukchi drilling, the containment barge Arctic Challenger, remains under retrofit in Bellingham and that its spill containment systems must be certified, which Interior officials say is four to five days away. The vessel would then need about two weeks to get on site in the Arctic.

Salazar says Shell will continue to be prohibited from drilling deeper into petroleum-bearing formations until its oil spill response barge is certified and moved into Arctic waters.

Shell hopes to drill exploratory wells in both the Chukchi and Beaufort.

Seattle was the launch site this summer for two Shell oil tankers and also the epicenter of a renewed standoff with Greenpeace



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