Oil and Ice: The Risks of Drilling in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean

9:18 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The above video was produced recently by the Center for American Progress.

On Tuesday, Anchorage’s KTUU TV ran a story that tried to update viewers on the “progress” of Shell Oil’s attempt to start drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas this season.  Here’s a link to the story, with video.

In the article, there is a contrast between the realism of Rebeccs Noblin, Director of the Anchorage office of the Center for Biological Diversity, and the forced optimism of Shell Oil’s local Alaska Vice President, Pete Slaiby:

Shell Oil could be gambling big with its latest move. Its Kulluk drilling ship left Dutch Harbor on Monday, heading to the Arctic on an uncertain journey. Shell says its second ship, the Noble Discoverer, should also leave Dutch Harbor sometime this week. 

Despite this, federal permits are not yet in hand to drill individual wells — and an oil spill response barge, the Arctic Challenger, sits in a Bellingham, Washington shipyard. Drilling cannot begin until it’s stationed in the Arctic. 

Finally, Shell says, all of the pieces are coming together. It expects the Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping to complete its final tests and inspections of the Challenger within the next few days.  

“This is no shot in the dark,” says Pete Slaiby, vice president of Shell Alaska. “These things have been planned for six years.”  

From Arctic ice that stubbornly refused to retreat, to a mishap in which the Nobel Discovery lost its mooring in Dutch Harbor, Shell has had a number of setbacks this summer — not to mention a recent scolding from the United States Interior Secretary, who says Shell’s delays this season are the company’s own fault.  

“People are saying, ‘Are you frustrated?’ Actually I get that question too much. The answer is ‘Really no,’” says Slaiby. “Because we really know we are going to work through these remaining issues.” 

Actually, Shell is very concerned.

When I visited the work site of the renovations and modifications of the Arctic Challenger at dockside in Bellingham, Washington, on August 8th, I got the distinct feeling of job site paranoia:

I thanked him [Superior's job site manager] for the best information anyone has yet given me, and requested a tour of the project. He flatly told me “No,” and I was not allowed to take any photographs of the vessel. He assured me that Shell Oil will be contacting me soon with more information.  

The ambience of the work place there reminded me very much of projects in the past where I have worked that are seriously behind schedule and nervous of potential outcomes. 

I was followed by private police until I left Bellingham.

Since the 8th of August, nothing having to do with the Arctic Challenger project has broken in favor of speeding things up.

At the time, I was probably the only person to publicly claim that Shell might not get it together in time to even drill a single hole this season.  Since then, there have been others coming to similar conclusions.

Here’s what you get if you google “Arctic Challenger delays.”

As the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noblin told KTUU yesterday:

“Shell’s really jumping the gun, moving its ships into the Arctic,” says Rebecca Noblin, director of the Center’s Anchorage office. 

“Ideally you wouldn’t be drilling in these kind of harsh conditions without being absolutely certain that you have your ducks in a row, and we just don’t have that here.”