Obama Moves Closer to Allowing Shell to Drill in Arctic

Monday, April 02, 2012
Shell Oil Drilling Platform Kulluk (photo: Tom Doyle, flickr)
Oil drilling off Alaska’s north coast could begin in a matter of months now that the Obama administration has approved a clean-up plan in the event of a spill.
 
The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Beaufort Sea. There, the oil company plans to begin exploratory drilling that will last only a few months before icy conditions and whale hunting by native tribes force a shutdown.
 
Environmentalists have expressed serious concerns about drilling in the Beaufort, which could prove challenging to deal with if an oil spill occurs, particularly in October just before the harsh winter makes access difficult. Since the Sea could be frozen over, Shell’s plan calls for the use of icebreaking vessels, flames dispersed from helicopters and radar that can track the spilled oil underneath the ice.
 
Chris Krentz of the environmental group Oceana told The Los Angeles Times, “Even to think we can track oil during the summertime, when there might be fog and other things, is a pretty big leap of faith, but to think we’d be able to track the oil under the ice in real-world conditions during the winter is just ludicrous.”
 
Nonetheless, federal regulators said they were satisfied with Shell’s emergency blueprint for containing an accidental blowout. The plan is designed to deal with a spill as large as 480,000 barrels of oil that, at that size, could reach the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill dumped about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Shell has waited five years and spent about $4 billion to gain access to the Beaufort and nearby Chukchi seas. It plans to drill 16 to 23 miles off the coast of northern Alaska…and about 1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard base.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
 
 
To Learn More:

Shell's Arctic Drilling Dreams Supported by Brand New Icebreaker (Maritime Executive) 

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