By Ben Geman - 06/29/12 07:11 PM EDT
The department is vowing robust safety oversight — it plans to have inspectors on the rigs around-the-clock — and the permits will follow testing of Shell’s spill containment equipment and other inspections of the company’s infrastructure.
But environmentalists oppose the project.
They say there’s not sufficient capacity to respond to a potential oil spill in the harsh seas, which are home to polar bears, bowhead and beluga whales and other fragile species.
Begich, however, said he did not think the decision will erode Obama’s standing with an environmental base that’s focused on many issues, but will allow Obama to show voters that he’s committed to developing domestic oil resources that displace imports from people that “hate us.”
“If anything, I think it gives him something to talk about in the sense of ‘look, we are doing it, we are bringing domestic [resources],” Begich said, citing estimates of very large amounts of oil beneath the Arctic seas.