The Blog Aquatic » alaska drilling http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Shell Gives Up on Arctic Oil in 2012 After Latest Failure http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/17/shell-gives-up-on-oil-in-2012-after-latest-failure/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/17/shell-gives-up-on-oil-in-2012-after-latest-failure/#comments Mon, 17 Sep 2012 20:33:46 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2992

Credit: Photolink

Yesterday, Shell admitted what we’ve known all along: the company is just not ready to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

This past weekend, a failed test of Shell’s oil spill containment system resulted in damage to the dome designed to contain oil in the event of a spill. In light of the damage to the containment dome, Shell announced that it was abandoning its plans to drill into oil-bearing layers in the Arctic Ocean this summer. The company said its drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean this summer would be limited to “top holes”—initial sections of wells that do not penetrate into known oil-bearing layers.

According to one media report, trouble with the containment dome started when one of the dome’s winches failed to operate correctly. Engineers sent a subsea remotely operated vehicle to investigate the problem. The ROV tangled in the anchor lines of the containment dome, causing the dome to sink into the silt on the ocean floor. As a result of the incident, the dome suffered an undisclosed amount of damage.

The containment dome failure is just the latest in a series of setbacks that have plagued Shell throughout the summer:

• Earlier this summer, Shell changed its story about its ability to clean up oil spilled in the Arctic Ocean. Portions of Shell’s oil spill response plan assume Shell would be able to clean up 90 percent of the oil released in a worst-case spill in the Arctic—even though actual recovery rates rarely exceed 20 percent even in the best of conditions. In the face of questions about its capacity to recover spilled oil, the company backpedaled, saying that it would only “encounter” 90 percent of spilled oil.

Credit: Damian Gadal flickr stream

• Around the same time it was changing its story about oil spill recovery, Shell admitted that one of its drillships—the Noble Discoverer—would not be able to meet air pollution standards set forth in EPA permits. The oil company was forced to seek a waiver from EPA to allow the drillship to emit additional pollution. EPA granted Shell’s request for a waiver a few weeks ago.

• In July, the Noble Discoverer nearly ran aground in relatively protected waters near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. The incident raised questions about Shell’s ability to operate safely in more challenging conditions further north.

• All summer long, Shell has had trouble obtaining Coast Guard certification for its oil spill response barge, the Arctic Challenger. Unable to meet the original safety requirements, Shell sought—and received—permission to have the barge evaluated under less stringent standards. Even then, it took all summer for Shell to renovate the barge, and the Arctic Challenger was not able to leave the dock for sea trials until well into September.

• The day after Shell began initial drilling the pilot hole for a long-delayed exploration well in the Chukchi Sea, a huge ice floe drifted toward the well site. The presence of the ice—which measured roughly 30 miles long by 12 miles wide—forced Shell to stop drilling operations, disconnect the drillship from its anchors, and pull away form the well site. At this writing, Shell is still waiting for the ice to clear the area.

Viewed in the context of all these shifts, missteps and setbacks, it should come as no surprise that this past weekend’s test of Shell’s containment dome was a failure. Shell’s record speaks for itself: the company is just not up to the challenge of operating safely and responsibly in the Arctic environment.

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“To The Arctic” and Drilling in Alaska http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/04/23/to-the-arctic-and-drilling-in-alaska/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/04/23/to-the-arctic-and-drilling-in-alaska/#comments Mon, 23 Apr 2012 22:08:23 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=131

To the Arctic follows a polar bear mother and her two cubs through a changing world. Image from MacGillivray Freeman Films.

Arctic drilling may not seem like something that affects most of us. After all, when was the last time you had a chance to dive into icy Arctic waters with walruses or follow polar bears across vast stretches of sea ice? But now, you can experience the Arctic from the comfort of a theater seat with “To the Arctic,” a new IMAX® movie by MacGillivray Freeman.

The film, narrated by Meryl Streep, follows a polar bear and her two cubs as they make their way through the rugged Arctic landscape. Along the way, you’ll see amazing images of our rapidly changing world, including stunning footage of wildlife, sweeping stretches of tundra, ghostly northern lights, and sculpted icebergs dotting the ocean.

But there are some things you shouldn’t see in the Arctic—like offshore drilling rigs. This summer, Shell is planning to drill for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the north and west coasts of Alaska. Drilling for oil in this region would be incredibly risky. The Arctic Ocean is prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, sea ice up to 25 feet thick, sub-zero temperatures and months-long darkness. Do these sound like prime conditions for responding to an emergency?

Exploration drilling—like the drilling proposed by Shell this summer—could be the first step toward rapid and unchecked development in the U.S. Arctic. Even if the initial operations go according to plan, Shell’s exploration drilling will bring increased pollution, noise, and air and vessel traffic to Arctic waters. And of course, things might not go as planned: offshore drilling could lead to a major oil spill that would devastate the Arctic ecosystem, people and wildlife. To date, oil and gas companies haven’t shown that they can effectively clean up a major oil spill in real-world Arctic conditions.

Given the risks, now is not the time to allow exploration drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Instead of giving the green light to drilling in the Arctic, the government should focus on identifying and protecting areas in the ocean that are especially important for wildlife and indigenous people. According to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report, there are still major gaps in our scientific understanding of the Arctic Ocean. We should have a research and monitoring plan designed to fill those gaps before drilling goes forward. And industry operators must demonstrate their ability to respond effectively to a large oil spill in real-world Arctic conditions. We still have a chance to get it right in the Arctic, but we need to slow down, do research, and put in place scientifically sound solutions.

To learn more about the Arctic and the threats it faces, click here. And please take action to protect the Arctic here.

©2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment. All Rights Reserved. IMAX® is registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

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