The federal government has signed off on Shell Oil Co.'s spill response plan for the Chukchi (CHUK'-chee) Sea, clearing a major hurdle for the Houston oil giant to begin drilling vast Arctic Ocean reserves off Alaska's coast during the 2012 summer open water season summer.
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director James Watson says in a prepared statement that the plan was approved after exhaustive review.
Arctic Ocean drilling is opposed by environmentalists who contend oil companies can't clean up a crude oil spill in icy waters. The well sites in the Chukchi are more than 1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard base.
The federal government estimates Arctic Ocean outer continental shelf reserves at 26.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.