Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurdent. Image courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell.

After two years of legal battles Royal Dutch Shell won conditional approval Monday to restart its U.S. Arctic drilling program this summer.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conditionally approved Shell’s plan to drill for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said.

Shell must still obtain all necessary permits from other state and federal agencies, including drilling permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The company must also wait until all biological opinions under the Endangered Species Act have been issued before drilling operations can start.

Shell’s revised exploration plan calls for up to six wells to be drilled at the Burger Prospect in water depths of 140 feet about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright.

The company will conduct its operations using the drillship M/V Noble Discoverer and the semi-submersible drilling unit Transocean Polar Pioneer, with each vessel providing relief-well capability for the other.

Last week Shell’s Arctic plan hit another regulatory snag after Seattle mayor Ed Murray said the city’s port will have to apply for a new land use permit to house the company’s Arctic fleet.

According to the Seattle Times applying for a new permit could take weeks or even months.


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