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Shell Gets U.S. Permit to Disturb Marine Life Off Alaska’s Coast

Royal Dutch Shell Plc received U.S. approval to disturb marine mammals as part of its plan to resume oil exploration off Alaska’s Arctic coast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an “incidental harassment authorization,” which allows noise from air guns, icebreaking, drilling and anchor handling. The June 12 permit, which covers July through October, doesn’t allow Shell to injure or kill any marine life.

Shell earlier received general approval for oil exploration for the coming months from the Department of Interior. The Hague-based company still must get a specific drilling plan from Interior’s offshore regulator, and work around ice flows and other vagaries of being 70 miles offshore Alaska in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell wants to resume work halted in 2012 when its main drilling rig ran aground and was lost. It also was fined for air-pollution violations.

The Arctic seas contain an estimated 24 billion barrels of oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Shell, which discovered oil in the same part of the ocean in 1986, is the first major explorer to return to the region since the last offshore Arctic drilling boom fizzled almost 30 years ago amid slumping crude prices.

Environmental groups, citing the difficulties in operating in the extreme Arctic, say producing oil there is a mistake. In addition, they say plans for mammal disturbance show that the risks are too great to threatened species and native communities that rely on them.

“Many of America’s most beloved marine creatures thrive here, including whales, walrus, seals and countless birds,” Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.

Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell, didn’t return e-mail or voice mail messages.

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