Washington: US President Barack Obama has defended authorising oil company Shell to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean, leading to criticism from ecological organisations and environment defenders. At a press conference on Thursday following the Camp David summit in Maryland with six Persian Gulf countries, Obama referred to the US Interior Department’s announcement on Monday regarding the drilling, Efe news agency reported.
“I believe that we are going to have to transition off of fossil fuels as a planet in order to prevent climate change… I am working internationally to reduce our carbon emissions and to replace, over time, fossil fuels with clean energies,” Obama said. “I think it is important to also recognise that this is going to be a transition process. In the meantime, we are going to continue to use fossil fuels, and when it can be done safely, and appropriately, US production of oil and natural gas is important,” he continued. Obama said he would prefer the US produce its own natural gas and oil, instead of importing it from “places that have much lower environmental standards than we do”. He also said that Shell had had to develop high standards to obtain the oil exploration permit in a process that was delayed for years.
The permit comes as a blow to environmental organisations seeking to halt the initiative, fearing spills in an area of high ecological value.
Shell has long fought for permission to explore the waters of Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast, which according to geologists is rich in oil and natural gas deposits.
According to the Department of Interior, Shell can drill and explore the region only when it meets the high safety standards imposed to avoid spills. The department also requires Shell at all times to keep its ships at least four miles away from walruses, a protected species.
Rebecca Noblin, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, released a statement on Monday sharply critical of the US government’s decision. “Not only does it put the Arctic’s pristine landscapes at a huge risk for oil spills and industrial development but it’s utterly incompatible with President Obama’s rhetoric to address the climate crisis,” she said.
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