"ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Shell Oil Co. on Monday took a step closer to tapping vast petroleum reserves off Alaska's Arctic coasts when the federal Environmental Protection Agency approved an air quality permit for one of the company's drilling vessels."
"The EPA approved the air permit for the drilling vessel Noble Discover, which Shell hopes to use for exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast, and its support fleet of oil spill response and supply vessels.
Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said the permit was a hopeful step.
"The delivery of final air permits for our exploration program is another in a series of recent, positive developments and adds to our confidence that we will be drilling our offshore Alaska leases by July of next year," Smith said in an email.
Environmental groups and some Alaska Native groups bitterly oppose offshore Arctic drilling.
Drilling during the ice-free months this year was blocked in part by a successful appeal of two air permits the EPA issued to Shell in 2010. The agency's independent Environmental Appeals Board overturned the permits in December."