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A spokesman for Shell Alaska says the company is a step closer to exploratory drilling off Alaska's northern shores.
Curtis Smith says the National Marine Fisheries Service on Wednesday issued the company harassment authorizations for whales and seals.
He says the permits give the company authorization to work near the animals as long as the impact is minimal.
Shell hopes to drill up to three exploratory wells this summer in the Chukchi Sea and two wells in the Beaufort Sea using two drill ships assisted by support vessels.
Exploratory drilling is strongly opposed by environmental groups and some Alaska Native groups that claim oil companies have not demonstrated that they can clean up a spill in ice-choked waters and that industrial drilling will harm species already stressed by climate warming.