ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Shell Oil will apply to drill 10 wells off Alaska’s Arctic shore over the next two years under an exploration plan headed to federal authorities.

The company hopes to see results from a $3.5 billion investment into Arctic Ocean drilling that has been thwarted in recent years by court challenges or inability to obtain federal permits.

Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said Monday that the company will seek permission to drill four wells in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north shore and six in the Chukchi Sea off the state’s northwest shore using two drilling ships in 2012 and 2013.

Drilling is bitterly opposed by environmental activists and some Alaska Native groups, who say oil companies have not demonstrated the ability to clean up a spill in ice-choked waters.

Critics contend leases in the Chukchi Sea were auctioned off before proper environmental studies were performed to determine how drilling and the accompanying industrial activity would affect endangered whales and other wildlife dependent on sea ice including polar bears, walrus and ice seals.

Shell officials have said a catastrophic well blowout similar to last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is unlikely because its plans mitigate two key contributing factors. Shell intends to drill in shallower waters. Also, company officials expect far less pressure on their wellhead.

Alaska officials such as Gov. Sean Parnell say offshore drilling is critical to the nation’s interests and for keeping oil in the trans-Alaska pipeline. The pipeline is currently running at one-third capacity.

Smith says the company expects to submit the plan of exploration for the Beaufort on Wednesday and for the Chukchi soon.