Camp David (AFP) - President Barack Obama called US oil production an "important" source of energy as America transitions towards cleaner resources, defending his move to allow petroleum giant Shell to drill in the Alaskan Arctic.
Obama's administration gave the petroleum giant a green light three days ago to explore the Chukchi Sea near Alaska -- as long as the Anglo-Dutch firm has the correct permits from the agencies that regulate the environment and marine mammal health.
Environmental groups oppose the drilling due to the vulnerability of Arctic animals that are already struggling with melting sea ice and the risk that an oil spill would pose to the region.
"Despite the fact that Shell had put in an application for exploration in this region several years ago, we delayed it for a very lengthy period of time, until they could provide us with the kinds of assurances that we have not seen before," Obama said during a Thursday press conference.
Shell put its drilling plans for the Alaska Arctic on hold in 2013 following multiple embarrassing problems with its two rigs.
One, the Kulluk, washed ashore after breaking loose from towing vessels in stormy seas in southern Alaska in January.
Another, the Noble Discoverer, was recently cited by the US Coast Guard for numerous safety and operational deficiencies.
Both rigs were sent to Asia for repair and maintenance work.
"Shell had to go back to the drawing board, revamp its approach," Obama said.
"I am working internationally to reduce our carbon emissions and to replace, over time, fossil fuels with clean energies," he added.
"In the meantime, we are going to continue to be using fossil fuels, and when it can be done safely and appropriately, US production of oil and natural gas is important," Obama said.
He added that importing oil and gas meant it might be "purchased from places that have much lower environmental standards than we do."
Some Americans grew increasingly wary of drilling after the April 2010 explosion of BP-leased Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 people and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean.
A Shell spokesman said that operations in the Chukchi Sea are scheduled to begin in the coming months.