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Arctic drilling begins

Arctic drilling begins
© Getty images

Royal Dutch Shell started to drill into the sea floor in the United States' portion of the Arctic Ocean late Thursday, the first drilling to take place there in years.

The Polar Pioneer, a Transocean drilling rig leased to Shell, started the drilling operations for an exploratory well at about 5 p.m. Alaska time, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said.

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The prospect is about 75 miles from Alaska’s northeastern tip, in the Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea.

The drilling came despite a full-on, multipronged fight from environmental groups, who tried to use courts, the Obama administration, protesting and various other methods to stop Shell’s plans to drill for oil and natural gas.

The Obama administration gave the final green light to Shell earlier this month.

But the company can only drill shallow wells and cannot drill into rock that is known to contain oil. It must wait until the MSV Fennica, an icebreaking ship that contains a key piece of drilling safety equipment, arrives in the Chukchi before it can drill further.

The Fennica left repair facilities in Portland, Ore., earlier Thursday.

Activists from Greenpeace had rappelled off a bridge to stop the ship from moving, initially prompting it to turn around, The Oregonian reports. But a federal judge started to fine Greenpeace for every hour protesters stopped the ship, and police eventually removed the activists, allowing the ship to pass.

“In the days to come, the team aboard the Transocean Polar Pioneer will work to complete the top portion of the well in anticipation of drilling to total depth once the Fennica arrives on site,” said Smith. “We remain committed to operating safely and responsibly and adding to Shell’s long history of exploration offshore Alaska.”

Shell is under various restrictions for its drilling operations, including ones on safety equipment, drilling times and protection of wildlife.