OFFSHORE DRILLING:

Shell launches campaign for Alaskan Arctic project

Emphasizing safety measures, Royal Dutch Shell PLC is starting a national advertising and public lobbying campaign today to win support for its oil drilling plans in the Alaskan Arctic.

Shell, which has the approval of Alaska's state government for the project, has proposed drilling one or two wells in the Beaufort Sea, a scaled-back plan from its original proposal four years ago. The company was about ready to go on the project, having spent $3.5 billion on it already but was stalled when the Obama administration put a drilling moratorium in place after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

After the Gulf spill, Shell has put into its plan an "unprecedented spill response approach," according to its campaign. This includes a dome containment system, an upgraded blowout preventer and a plan where response teams and equipment would be ready at all hours of the day.

"We've opted out of the fire department-type of approach," said Peter Slaiby, vice president of Shell's Alaska Venture. "Our assets can be on site and deployed within one hour."

The company is hoping that the Interior Department will approve the project by the end of the year so it can start drilling next summer. The state government is suing the federal government to overturn its drilling suspension; a federal district court judge has given the Interior Department until Friday to respond to the suit.

"Every day we're delayed, we're delaying jobs and energy development," Slaiby said. "It's a crushing irony that the Gulf of Mexico moratorium is lifted and we are not allowed to move forward" (Clifford Krauss, New York Times, Nov. 5). -- AP

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