This is bound to be challenged by every single environmental group with a stake here, but it's still really not encouraging: New York Times reports that the Department of Interior has granted Shell conditional approval to start drilling oil exploration wells in the Arctic Ocean starting next summer. The proposed drill sites are in the Beaufort Sea just north of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and east of Prudhoe Bay and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.NYT notes that Shell has spent nearly $4 billion over the last five years attempting to get approval for the plan.
Read the linked article for the full story. But just let me say this: The fact that this approval comes shortly after the head of the Coast Guard says the US has zero capacity to deal with Arctic oil spills and videos have come to light showing that the last time there were public tests of cleaning up spills in icy water they were complete failures, really gives me little hope that the Obama administration has any clue about environmentally sane energy policy--improved fuel efficiency standards for cars not withstanding.
But even then: Perhaps with improved fuel efficiency we can just keep stretching oil company profits out longer and longer as the world's finite supplies of oil start really dwindling down and prices just rise. Never mind trying to find alternatives to the status quo.