Interior Dept. Delays Decision on Shell's Alaska Plans

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), May 7, 2010

The Interior Department said late Thursday that it will not make a final decision on permits needed by Royal Dutch Shell for drilling exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska until a review of offshore-drilling safety issues is completed.

The Interior Department said that the Minerals Management Service had notified Marvin Odum, the president of the U.S. unit of Shell, in a letter. Shell several years ago acquired leases to drill off the coast of Alaska and has plans to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas this summer.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said that he aims to complete by May 28 the safety review called for by President Barack Obama. The review comes as BP PLC (BP, BP.LN) struggles to stop a leak from a deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico. The vast oil spill reached land on Thursday. Official estimates have put the rate of the leak at 5,000 barrels a day.

Shell has said that it is moving forward with its 2010 drilling plans. "We are currently talking with regulators and stakeholders who understandably want to be reassured that we have taken every precaution necessary to avoid an offshore incident," Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said in a statement on Thursday.

The Obama administration said also on Thursday that no new applications for drilling permits will go forward for any new offshore drilling activity until the review is complete. It also canceled meetings set for this month that are key to offering leases to drill off the coast of Virginia.

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