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Obama pushed off-shore development despite Native concerns

President Barack Obama cleared the way for Shell Oil to drill in the Arctic Ocean despite opposition from Alaska Natives, The New York Times reports.

During the Bush administration, Edward Itta, a respected whaler who served as mayor of the North Slope Borough in the Arctic, filed a lawsuit that put a halt to Shell's plans. Alaska Natives raised concerns about the impact of drilling on their subsistence lifestyle.

But after Obama took office, he was receptive to off-shore development. Although the process moved slowly, he created an interagency task force to help Shell address the issues raised by the lawsuit.

At the same time, Shell stepped up its efforts to convince Alaska Natives of the safety of drilling. The company spread money throughout the North Slope and sent an executive who traveled to rural villages.

“It got lonely,” Itta, who detected the shift in the political and legal landscape, told the Times. “The pressure was tremendous.”

Obama's task force ended up helping Shell clear a series of multi-agency hurdles. “We can’t stop it,” an official told the paper of the message coming from the White House. “We can only make it less bad.”

Shell is now ready to drill test wells in the Arctic, pending final approval from the Interior Department.

Get the Story:
New and Frozen Frontier Awaits Offshore Oil Drilling (The New York Times 5/24)

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