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Shell Alaska’s plans to drill an exploratory well just offshore in the Beaufort Sea this summer is a go — pending another safety review by federal regulators.
Shell scaled back its original 2011 program, leaving disputed Chukchi Sea development to be resolved in court to focus on the Beaufort project. The more modest enterprise will give the company, regulators and North Slope leaders a chance to narrow their focus and make sure everything is done right.
While it’s still a little tentative, the Obama administration’s endorsement reflects the decision it made about Alaska development before the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April. That decision was to nix exploration near the rich salmon fishery of Bristol Bay, but to explore and develop with care in the Arctic.
That made sense then and still does.
Rear Adm. Christopher Clovis, commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska, said last month that he has confidence in Shell’s exploration plans for 2011. He said actual production — which is the goal of exploration, after all — presents more problems. But there’s time to address those.
Let Shell go to work in 2011 to explore for oil — and also restore faith in the industry’s ability and will to do it right, to tap Alaska’s oil and gas treasure while abiding by the highest and environmental and safety standards on the planet.
That’s the challenge. We need the oil. We need the jobs. And we need to provide them while protecting the Arctic environment and its communities.