The Obama administration’s inconsistent approach to climate change was laid bare again last night after the US Interior Department reconfirmed Shell’s controversial lease sale in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

The announcement by the Administration means Royal Dutch Shell is now a significant step closer to returning to oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, a region already feeling the impacts of climate change.

It is also where Shell suffered a series of major mishaps in 2012, including where its drilling rig, the Kulluk, run aground.

It means that Interior Department can now start the formal process of reviewing Shell’s plans for an exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea.

The oil company is keen to start drilling this summer, but there are still regulatory hurdles the company must jump over before drilling can commence. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and other federal agencies will have to approve its plan first.

During the announcement, Obama’s Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell said: “”The Arctic is an important component of the Administration’s national energy strategy, and we remain committed to taking a thoughtful and balanced approach to oil and gas leasing and exploration offshore Alaska”.

Many environmentalists believe that there is no such thing as a “balanced” approach to Arctic drilling, as the risks of a spill are too great and that the Arctic is one of the first regions we should not be drilling in at all.

It also highlights the ongoing inconsistency of the Obama Administration on climate change. In recent weeks, Obama has made several strong statements on the issue and has vetoed the Keystone XL pipeline, giving hope to many people that the President was taking a more progressive line on climate change.

The decision has been condemned by environmentalists. “Today’s announcement is both expected and disappointing,” said Susan Murray, a vice president at Oceana.

Murray continued: “The Obama administration has steadfastly refused to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of selling leases in the Chukchi Sea and, instead, treats the leases sold in 2008 as if they’re set in stone.”

“We are disappointed in Interior’s rushed lease sale decision,” said Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice. “We sincerely hope it says no to Shell’s louder, bigger, and dirtier tactics, loaded with potential environmental harm.”

“It’s an indefensible decision,” Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Ian Duff added. “The Arctic is melting rapidly because of climate change. But instead of seeing it as a warning, Shell sees profit. It wants to drill for more of the stuff that caused the melting in the first place. And all the evidence shows Shell can’t drill safely in the Arctic. The extreme conditions means it’s when, not if, a spill will happen.”

Meanwhile Shell is rapidly gearing up for the drilling and has begun moving two contracted drilling units to the US in anticipation of operations this summer.

Whether drilling happens this summer remains to be seen, as environmental groups are now mobilising to stop Shell too.

For more on this read Hannah McKinnon’s great blog.