Is it Safe To Drill in Alaska? Royal Dutch Shell Suspends ‘Historic’ Drilling Job
Fresh debate continues to arise over drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean, as Royal Dutch Shell began the week by announcing a suspension of their Alaska drilling operation that Shell’s management were keen to label ‘historic.’
The Alaska drilling job was temporarily halted on Monday, with Shell’s drill ship detached from anchoring onto the Burger-A well, due to wind changes that brought 12 mile wide sea ice dangerously into play. The delay to operations serves as fresh ammunition for environmental groups who maintain the Alaskan campaign could serve as an encore to environmental disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
After years of litigation, red-tape and capital investment upwards of $4.5 billion, Shell warmed up for the week’s operation in a state of excitement at the prospect of drilling in the Chukchi Sea for the first time in over two decades. Shell Alaska vice president Pete Slaiby addressed the press, last Sunday, choosing to emphasize his company’s strides into rarely chartered territory as he sought to move past current opposition to their campaign. Shell had to jump through regulatory hoops, while thwarting lawsuits and even nature’s conspiracy to shorten open-water drilling seasons.
The most vocal opponent of the Chukchi Sea campaign is environmental group Greenpeace, who saw this week’s delay as further evidence that economical powerhouses like Shell were unprepared for the safety risks involved in an Arctic job.
Shell, however, chose to highlight the carefully timed suspension as proof of the company’s thorough planning before ever setting drill-bits into Alaska. “We’re using satellite images, we’re using radar images, we’re also using on-site reconnaissance to watch this ice so there are no surprises,” said Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith in a news release via email to Associated Press. Smith emphasized the Shell crews were working together ‘smoothly’ but insisted the company’s priority was safety and their recognition that relocation at a moment’s notice simply came with the territory.
Their opposition will barely be tempered by the knowledge that this week’s expedition is merely a warm-up act to establish an exploratory well. As yet, concerning red flags being raised over a Gulf of Mexico repeat, Shell’s oil response barge still awaits certification, and the drilling powerhouse is limited to drilling plot holes that do not descend into oil reservoirs. Greenpeace maintain the sea ice movements are a further sign that Shell’s interference in the area is ‘not welcome, ‘ and their warning comes after an end of summer where Greenpeace executive directors were seeking to end Russian oil giant Gazprom’s expeditions into the Russian Arctic.
Greenpeace and other environmental groups have called for further political attention on what they claim are record-low levels of sea ice in 2012, with figures surpassing the previous low set in 2007. Both sides have continued to occupy a significant presence in the Arctic area, using specialized boat captains to guide their physical presence. Greenpeace signalled its intention to keep promoting their record findings at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York. As yet, there remains no official government word on whether Shell will be able to ramp up its operations after the initial exploratory phase is brought to a conclusion.
Guest post contributed by Steve Hanigan for FugroGeoConsulting.com – providers of Geotechnical Engineering. Steve is a freelance writer with a longstanding career as a consultant. His articles appear on various geology blogs.
Reasons to JOIN US include:
- It's absolutely FREE!
- Get Green Tips You MUST know about.
- How to's on going green, saving money, and having fun.
- Keep up-to-date on our posts in cased you missed them.