Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Treehugger Tuesday

Better Go See The Arctic Before it's too Late

From the New York Times:

Way Cleared for Shell to Start Drilling in Arctic Ocean
By Coral Davenport JULY 22, 2015

An oil-drilling rig in Port Angeles, Wash., that Shell hopes to use for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast. Credit Daniella Beccaria/seattlepi.com, via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration cleared the way on Wednesday for Shell to start drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer, but the safety restrictions it is imposing could slow the pace at which rigs strike oil.

The authorization was widely expected, after the Interior Department gave conditional approval in May for the company’s long-delayed application to drill in the untouched waters of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The permit would allow Shell to start drilling at the top of the seabed but would not allow the drill to penetrate into the oil reserves until the company has quick access to equipment called a capping stack, which is used to shut down wells in case of emergency spills.

Shell’s nearest capping stack is on a vessel that is en route to Portland, Ore., for repairs. If the vessel can eventually be deployed in the Chukchi Sea, Interior Department officials said, the company may submit an application to drill into the oil reserves.

“Without question, activities conducted offshore Alaska must be held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards,” said Brian Salerno, the director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. “Without the required well-control system in place, Shell will not be allowed to drill into oil-bearing zones. As Shell conducts exploratory activities, we will be monitoring their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship.”

Shell has sought for years to drill in the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea, a region that federal scientists believe could hold up to 15 billion barrels of oil.

But the approval of the permit enraged environmentalists, who fear that a drilling accident in the treacherous Arctic Ocean could be far more devastating than the Gulf of Mexico BP spill of 2010. That accident killed 11 men and sent millions of barrels of oil into the gulf.

The Obama administration initially granted Shell a permit to begin offshore Arctic drilling in the summer of 2012. But the company’s first efforts were plagued by safety and operational problems. One of its oil rigs, the Kulluk, ran aground and had to be towed to safety.

In 2013, the Interior Department said the company could not resume drilling until all safety issues were addressed.

“Neither Shell nor the oil industry as a whole has learned the lessons of 2010 or 2012,” said Andrew Sharpless, the chief executive of Oceana, an environmental group. “As its ongoing missteps show, Shell is not prepared to operate safely in the Arctic Ocean, where bad weather, darkness and floating ice increase the risks of an accident, and there is no proven way to clean up spilled oil. The government’s approvals for Shell’s drilling fly in the face of common sense.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who is the chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the approval of the permit “good news for Alaska and our country.”

“However, it is not the final regulatory hurdle Shell faces,” she added, “and it is important that the agencies continue to work in good faith and in a timely fashion to complete the remaining regulatory requirements.”

A version of this article appears in print on July 23, 2015, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Way Cleared for Drilling by Shell in Arctic Sea.

© 2015 The New York Times Company

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