Royal Dutch Shell has received initial approval from the US government to begin the process of oil drilling in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. The US Department of interior has granted approval to the oil extraction company to begin the process of “top hole drilling” in Alaska’s costal waters even though the company has failed to receive approval for a required “oil spill containment system”.

The Obama appointed head of the Department of Interior Ken Salazar said he was not sure if Royal Dutch Shell will begin oil extraction this year or in 2013. The company’s vice president for Alaskan drilling Pete Slaiby said, however, that he was excited about the US government authorization and the top hole drilling that the approval allows will “clearly help” the company and “put a real wind in our sails for 2013.”

The Chukchi Sea is known as the single habitat for one of only five genetically distinct Eurasian polar bear populations in the world and was the site of scientist’s 2012 discovery of the largest known phytoplankton algal blooms on the earth.

Alaskan environmentalist Mike LeVine, who works for a conservation group called Oceana, was critical of the close cooperation between the Department of Interior and the international oil production company stating that, “the Interior Secretary appears to be bending over backwards to accommodate a multi-national corporation.”