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President Obama gave Shell Oil approval to begin drilling offshore this summer in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska on Wednesday, July 22. The permit only allows the company to drill into the top layer of seabed until a capping stack, able to cap oil wells in an emergency, is repaired. The capping stack must be in quick reach at the drill sites before Shell can penetrate into deep oil reserves.

“As Shell conducts exploratory activities, we will be monitoring their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship,” Brian Salerno, the director of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, told The New York Times.

The damage occurred when the rig carrying the equipment struck a sandbar in shallow water on July 3. Similar setbacks have occurred since Obama initially approved Shell’s exploration of the area in 2012.

In light of this, environmentalists argue that operating in the remote sea is too risky.

“As its ongoing missteps show, Shell is not prepared to operate safely in the Arctic Ocean, where bad weather, darkness and floating ice increase the risks of an accident, and there is no proven way to clean up spilled oil,” Andrew Sharpless, chief executive of Oceana, told The New York Times.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates 29 billion barrels of oil could exist in the Chukchi Sea. Shell hopes to survey two new areas at their exploratory site, Burger Prospect, this summer.

— Natalia Bayona


Kepler-452b, a planet 1,400 light-years away with a diameter larger than Earth, was discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission around a star similar to our sun. On Thursday, July 23, NASA confirmed that Kepler-452b is the first planet found in a “habitable zone” — an area near a star where liquid water can collect on an orbiting planet’s exterior. The new planet has been orbiting its star, Kepler-452, for 6 billion years in the constellation Cygnus.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, the Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in a NASA press release.

The research center carried out ground-based surveys in Texas, Arizona and Hawaii that identified Kepler-452b as a planet.

Kepler also spotted 11 other potential planets bigger than Earth in other habitable zones over the course of a four-year-long mission ending in 2013. Nine of the stars orbited by the planet candidates, called exoplanets, measure the same size and temperature as our sun. According to the press release, these discoveries “mark another milestone in the journey to finding another ‘Earth.’” Boulder’s Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder operate Kepler’s flight system.

— Natalia Bayona