The Anchorage Daily News reports how, when oil giant Shell ran into problems recently securing federal air pollution permits needed to launch its controversial offshore drilling campaign for this summer, the company went to the state’s top pollution regulator for help.

Shell hopes to start drilling exploratory wells in Beaufort Sea this summer using two drill ships plus a dozen support boats. At the moment the company’s drilling campaign is on a court-ordered hold until at least Aug. 14 because of challenges from North Slope Borough, environmental groups, Native whalers.

But Larry Hartig, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the regulator charged with overseeing Shell’s operations, has written a letter which seems to support Shell’s request. It sent a letter last week to the US EPA asking for a hurry-up on Shell’s permits, saying the company “will incur significant economic harm if this drilling season is lost.”

The letter indicates “the state is aligned with industry on the drilling, which the North Slope Borough, environmental groups and Native whalers are opposing”, argues the ADN.

The air pollution permit issue is now pending before the EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board in Washington, D.C. In his July 18 letter, Hartig asks the board for “expedited consideration” of the borough’s appeal, saying that “small delays could well result in the loss of an entire field season.”