Offshore Drilling: Alaska, and More.

Photo by Jim Bain. Some rights reserved.

The Interior Department is very publicly scrutinizing every detail of Shell’s plan to begin drilling in the fragile Arctic this summer. Top officials are personally reviewing equipment bound for the drilling sites in Alaska and held a press conference Thursday to tout DOI’s robust testing.

The past year has seen a series of approvals for Shell’s plans. In March, DOI approved Shell’s oil spill response plans, following the EPA’s announcement in September that it had granted air pollution permits to ships associated with the drilling sites.

Last May, the Obama administration created an inter-agency team to streamline the Alaskan permitting process to help speed up domestic development and responding to political pressure over high gasoline prices as well as what Republicans have called bureaucratic permitting delays.

But the Interior Department, increasing its safety standards and scrutiny of drilling plans, wants to ensure it is seen as taking every precaution in the wake of last year’s BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement director James Watson called his agency’s standards “the most rigorous safety and oversight program ever.”

Meanwhile, despite the delays to Shell’s Alaska plan, Republican South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would allow his state to open parts of its coast, to offshore drilling 10 to 100 miles off the coast – after which it would petition the federal government for approval.

Further abroad, the questions and politics of offshore drilling are alive and well in France – Paris on Wednesday suspended  exploratory permits for offshore oil in its district of Guyana, in northeastern South America. The French environment minister cited concerns for the local marine environment and said the permits will be suspended until the mining code is reviewed. Shell and other oil companies have found significant oil reservoirs in the region, which they believe mirror the oil reserves off the coast of western Africa.

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