Canadians watch U.S. Arctic drilling review closely

The U.S. government is expected to issue its decision soon on an environmental review of Shell's plans to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea and in the American side of the Beaufort Sea.

U.S. government expected to issue decision soon on review of Shell drilling plans

Shell's Frontier Discoverer drilling rig shown at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in 2007. The company is planning more drilling this year off the coast of Alaska, which worries some Alaskan Innupiat residents. (Shell Exploration & Production/Associated Press)

The U.S. government is expected to issue its decision soon on an environmental review of Shell's proposed Arctic drilling plans.

The company wants to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea and eventually in the American side of the Beaufort Sea. An arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior says there's a 75 per cent chance of a spill in Arctic waters, but the government is expected to approve the plan which could see Shell drilling as soon as this summer. 

That's not sitting well with environmentalists.

"The risks of oil drilling are known to everyone, including the government and the broader public, who are showing an increasing concern for Arctic offshore oil drilling," said Farrah Khan, Greenpeace Canada's Arctic campaigner based in Toronto.

Khan fears a spill on the American side would affect Canadian waters.

"The border between Canada and the U.S. in the Beaufort is basically an invisible border."

Potential for growth

Robert Huebert, an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said Shell is eager to move forward because the world is running out of politically stable places to drill for oil and because of the competition from shale gas.

"Out of all the places where Shell is looking, regardless of the difficulties that it's faced politically, Alaska and the Chukchi sea and the areas where they're looking still remains their greatest potential area for future growth."

Americans aren't the only people who want to drill in the Arctic. In Canada, Imperial Oil wants to drill on the Canadian side of the Beaufort Sea by the year 2020.

The company is expected to file its proposal for how it would like to respond to a potential oil spill to the National Energy Board later this year. 

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