London rejected a September recommendation from the Environmental Audit Committee to place a ban on arctic drilling. The committee last year said there should be an immediate ban until explorers can prove their incident response plans work in extreme conditions and a pan-arctic spill response plan is enacted.
An exploration campaign approved by the U.S. government for Shell in the northern arctic waters offshore Alaska is under review following the late December grounding of drill ship Kulluk. Shell's efforts last year were complicated by weather and equipment errors.
London, however, rejected calls for a ban despite Shell's track record so far in arctic waters. In justifying its decision, the government said it lacks the expertise to dictate trends to arctic states.
Joan Walley, the British lawmaker who chairs the audit committee, said in a statement that last year's record-setting ice melt in the arctic region should add to the concerns that have emerged since Shell's complications.
"Last summer's record arctic sea ice melt should be seen as a wake-up call to Governments to work together to protect this region, not a starting gun on a race to exploit its resources," she said in a statement. "The U.K. should take a lead in pushing for a protected area in the arctic -- one of the last undeveloped wilderness areas on Earth."