Shells Lands Alaska Air Permits

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Royal Dutch Shell, Europe's largest oil company, was awarded draft air quality permits from the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, a move that could open the door for the Anglo-Dutch oil giant to finally commence drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the coast of Alaska.

Shell (RDS-A) has held leases in Alaska's Arctic region for several years, but has been unable to commence drilling due to an array of regulatory hurdles. The company was hoping to tap the Chukchi Sea this year, but the moratorium imposed by the U.S. government following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year stymied Shell's Alaska plans.

The company has said it plans to drill as many as two wells a year in the Beaufort Sea, and as many as three a year in the Chukchi Sea from 2012 through 2013, according to Bloomberg News. Shell acquired the Beaufort leases in 2005 and said it was ready to start drilling there in 2007. The Chukchi leases were purchased in 2008.

By some estimates, the region holds up to 30 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves and about 130 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas reserves. The EPA's permits are subject to a 30-day comment period.