Heather Zichal, the top White House aide on energy issues, predicted on Wednesday that the long-awaited exploratory drilling project in the Arctic Ocean that Royal Dutch Shell will head is on its way -- the closest the Obama administration has come to announcing its approval.
Responding to questions at a National Journal forum about whether the administration is committed to an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy, Zichal said that among other things, "This summer, we're announcing "¦ some new developments in the Arctic."
Many observers see the project as inevitable. Shell has spent billions of dollars and has waited five years to begin exploratory drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic, and has said that it hopes to begin drilling in July. That would give the company enough time to explore in the short window before October, the start of the Arctic winter with its icy conditions.
Shell has nearly all of the approvals it needs to move forward, having seen its oil-spill response plan and other environmental reviews and authorizations approved in the last several months. The company essentially needs only a final OK from the Interior Department before it moves forward, something that Zichal indicated would be forthcoming.