The company spent $5bn (£3bn) in its last failed search for oil in Alaska but the company believes that the region’s vast untapped reserves warrant the potential financial and environmental risks of returning.

Despite the slump in oil prices to levels around $50 per barrel, operators are prepared to continuing searching for crude in the Arctic. According to estimates by energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, the region, straddling territory belonging to Russia, the US, Norway, Greenland and Canada, may hold as much as 166bn barrels of oil equivalent.

Shell’s plan for the Chukchi may involve using two rigs to reach production of around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, roughly half the UK’s current output of oil from the North Sea. Tapping oil and gas reserves held under the Arctic will be vital to meeting expected global energy demand beyond 2040.

According to the International Energy Agency, total energy demand will increase by 37pc over the next 25 years and without new reserves the world could face a catastrophic shortfall in oil and gas.

However, the decision by President Barack Obama’s administration to sanction Shell’s plans in Alaska has drawn immediate criticism from environmental lobby groups.

“It’s an indefensible decision,” said Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Ian Duff. “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.”

Drilling in the Arctic is complicated by ice, which in some areas can last for around six months. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has said there is a 75pc chance of “one or more large spills” happening.

The decision to permit Shell back into Alaska could also trigger a rush by other nations to tap their Arctic resources.

Canada is watching Shell’s plans closely. Imperial Oil wants to drill on the Canadian side of the Beaufort Sea by the end of the decade. In Russia, state-run Rosneft and Gazprom have a monopoly to explore the country’s vast Arctic continental shelf, but work has been slowed by Western sanctions aimed at forcing the Kremlin to back down over its support of separatists in Ukraine.