Inupiat Eskimo whalers ended their annual whalehunt on Wednesday, signaling to Shell Oil that it could again drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea off the northern coast of Alaska.
On Sept. 23, the company also resumed drilling in the nearby Chukchi Sea after encroaching sea ice caused them to suspend operations for two weeks, McClatchy reported.
Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith told the Alaska Dispatch that this marks the first time two rigs have drilled simultaneously off the coast of Alaska in more than 20 years.
Energy experts told the New York Times that up to a million barrels of oil a day—or 10 percent of current domestic production—could be produced by drilling in the Arctic Seas.
But despite what Shell says is $4.5 billion spent to drill off the shore of Alaska, neither venture will yield oil or natural gas this year.
The company only has permission to drill to 1,400 feet, several thousand feet short of oil or gas, although Shell says the partial wells will be completed next year.
The projects suffered several setbacks in recent months, including the encroaching ice and Shell's agreement not to drill in the Beaufort Sea until two villages completed their whaling season, McClatchy reported.
Last month, an oil spill containment dome—which the company plans to use in the case of an oil spill—was damaged during testing in Puget Sound, according to The New York Times.
The permits issued by the U.S. Bureau of Environmental Safety and Enforcement only allow "top-hole" drilling because Shell has not yet met oil spill regulations, Reuters said.
"Shell says its 2012 season is shaping up to be a success despite a slow start and limits on drilling to about 1,400 feet, far short of oil-rich zones. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said Shell cannot drill into geological formations that contain oil until the oil spill containment system, which sits on a barge, is complete. Shell is investigating what went wrong in the testing of the containment dome, designed to be lowered over an out-of-control well to funnel oil, natural gas and contaminated water back to the barge, the Arctic Challenger."
Drilling can continue until the end of October in the Beaufort Sea.