Shell is saying that sea ice coverage in the Bering Sea is 30 to 40 percent above normal, the worst it’s been in 12 years. Ice coverage is also above normal in both the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
That means that the first Arctic Ocean drilling off America's shores in a generation will be delayed by two to three weeks -- a major setback since the summer drilling season in Arctic waters is so short.
Shell had hoped to be drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi by early July, but the sea ice coverage means the best it can hope for is to drill in mid-to-late July, or even early August.
The delay could mean that Shell might only complete as few as two of its five planned exploratory wells. Nevertheless, it now looks inevitable that at least some drilling will be done in Alaska's Arctic waters this summer.
Virtually all environmental challenges to the drilling plan have been pushed aside by the courts, but there will still be environmental protests.
The most dramatic of those protests may be staged by Greenpeace, which is under a restraining order barring it from interfering with Shell personnel or assets. A federal judge granted the order after several protesters, including actress Lucy Lawless, boarded the drillship Noble Discoverer in a New Zealand harbor to delay its departure for Alaska.
Greenpeace has vowed not to attempt any illegal boardings during the Shell drilling operations in the Arctic.
Instead the company will deploy a manned submarine, to document sea life in the drilling area.
It will also deploy Zodiacs in the water -- with underwater microphones -- to examine whether noises from the drill platforms have adverse impacts on whales.
Shell says it's spent tens of millions of dollars on accoustical studies, and has determined its drill-rig noises have "minimal" effect on marine life.
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