Shell announced its drilling rig Kulluk left Dutch Harbor, Alaska, for prospective drilling sites in arctic waters. The company aims to access an offshore region said to have more than 20 million barrels of oil.
The company requested permission from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to extend its drilling campaign beyond the Sept. 24 deadline for its Chukchi Sea campaign, the Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News reports.
The BOEM set the deadline based on ice models and the 38-day timeframe that Shell would need to drill a relief well to control any oil spill if it occurred. The government last year estimated the region would be covered with ice by Nov. 1 at the earliest.
Shell estimates that ice won't interrupt its operations in the Chukchi Sea until Nov. 18 at the earliest. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told the Daily News that sea ice forecast models were consistent with those predicted by the National Weather Service.
Environmentalist groups expressed concern about the potential for damage to the arctic should a spill take place. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had said he'd hold Shell's "feet to the fire" to ensure the company meets federal regulations in the region.