US interior secretary Ken Salazar has said his department will not allow Shell to “screw up” its Arctic drilling programme again.
Speaking to reporters he said the government will ensure the company meets stringent conditions before resuming its Arctic oil programme. Shell announced a hiatus after multiple setbacks last year.
“Shell screwed up in 2012 and we’re not going to let them screw up whenever their pause is removed unless they have these systems in place,” said Salazar.
“The Arctic is a very difficult environment to operate in. Shell is one of the most resource-capable companies in the world and it still encountered a whole host of problems trying to operate up there.”
Shell’s attempts to drill test wells in the summer were delayed after the US coast guard insisted a support vessel undergo repairs before heading into the Arctic.
The Kulluk drilling platform ran aground in January while being towed out of the region.
Shell announced it would send its damaged Arctic vessels to Asia for repairs and would resume its Arctic operations in 2014.
Following a review, the Interior Department will now insist that Shell submits a step by step plan for its operations and undergo a third party audit of its management and closer cooperation with the government.
“It doesn’t mean that exploration cannot continue,” Salazar said. “But I think the cardinal lesson is that moving forward on any Arctic exploration needs the comprehensive integration we attempted to bring to last summer and will attempt to do an even better job of in the future.”
Salazar also stressed that Arctic drilling remained part of the nation’s energy future.
“Exploration in the Arctic is a key component of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, and is important to our understanding of the oil and gas potential in this frontier region,” said Salazar.
“We have said all along that exploration in the challenging and sensitive environment of the Arctic must be done cautiously.”
Campaigners say the absence of a viable spill response plan that can meet the tough Arctic conditions should be reason enough to stop drilling in the region.
The Lloyd’s of London insurance market has queried the viability of Arctic operations calling it a “hard to manage risk”.