Drilling for Oil in the Arctic: A Summary

Written by on January 28, 2013 in Policy & Ocean Law

On New Year’s Eve, Shell’s drilling rig Kulluk ran aground in Alaska, adding to the controversy of drilling in the Arctic. Since then, the safety and practicality of drilling in such a fragile ecosystem has been continuously questioned. With new information being shared every week, we wanted to give you a summary of the current status of the Arctic drilling project.

Although environmentalists said that the accident highlights the risk of drilling for oil, UK government refused to support a moratorium on Arctic drilling and the Obama administration continues to support the project.

Kulluk, Shell's drilling rig.

Kulluk, Shell’s drilling rig. Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard.

“The administration understands that the Arctic environment presents unique challenges and that’s why the secretary has repeatedly made clear that any approved drilling activities will be held to the highest safety and environmental standards,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s spokesman Blake Androff.

“The Arctic, in one form or another — us, Canada, Russia — it’s getting developed, so let’s do it right,” said Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

A week after the incident, Salazar announced that there will be a high-level assessment of the 2012 offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas to review practices and identify challenges and lessons learned. The assessment will continue through March.

“Developing America’s domestic energy sources is essential for reducing our dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home and the Administration is fully committed to exploring for potential energy resources in frontier areas such as the Arctic,” said Salazar. “Exploration allows us to better comprehend the true scope of our resources in the Arctic and to more fully understand the nature of the risks and benefits of development in this region, but we also recognize that the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment demand an even higher level of scrutiny.”

Environmentalists continue to oppose the project.

“Again and again we are learning the hard way that Shell is not prepared to operate in Alaskan waters,” said Michael Levine, a senior attorney for Oceana. “There is no way Shell should be allowed to drill into hydro-carbon bearing zones in 2013 or in the foreseeable future.”

“We hope this review amounts to more than a paper exercise,” he said.

Shell recently began its own investigation of its Arctic program. “It’s critical that we identify what went wrong and learn from it,” said Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell. “Alaskans expect more from Shell and so do we.”

“Shell and its contractors are no match for Alaska’s weather and sea conditions either during drilling operations or during transit,” Lois Epstein, an Alaska-based environmental engineer and a member of an Interior Department advisory panel on offshore drilling safety and the Alaska program director for the Wilderness Society told Reuters.

“They want the investigation to have credibility and not be a whitewash,” Epstein said. “If the report includes substantial information suggesting that moving forward in the Arctic is a mistake, then the administration will have to take that information seriously.”

Most recently, officials with the Center for American Progress (CAP) have recently announced their opposition to Arctic oil drilling. Carol Browner and John Podesta explained their new position in a joint Bloomberg op-ed.

“We were open to offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic provided oil companies and the government could impose adequate safeguards, ensure sufficient response capacity and develop a deeper understanding of how oil behaves in ice and freezing water. Now, following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean,” they write.

Kulluk ran aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska.

Kulluk ran aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska. Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard.

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Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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