Shell To Drill In The Arctic

Published: August 18, 2015

Shell To Drill In The Arctic, The Obama administration has granted final approval for Shell’s Arctic drilling programme, clearing the way for the company to restart its stuttering search for northern oil and drawing criticism from presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton.

Shell has been waiting since the beginning of August for the arrival of a key safety vessel, the Fennica, after it was damaged en route to the Chukchi sea. Arctic safety standards forbid drilling deep enough to hit oil without the Fennica, which carries a device designed to control a blowout.

The director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Brian Salerno said the arrival of the safety vessel meant the company was now compliant with “the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards”.

A Shell spokeswoman said the company was pushing ahead with its delayed programme and the Polar Pioneer rig was making progress drilling into “hydrocarbon bearing zones” of the Arctic Ocean bedrock.

“We remain committed to operating in a safe, environmentally responsible manner and look forward to evaluating what could potentially become a national energy resource base,” she said.

Salerno said the BSEE would “continue to monitor their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship”.

Shell’s Burger Prospect is 70 miles (112 km) off the Alaskan coast. Environmentalists and observers have raised concerns that if a large spill occurs in the fragile Arctic environment, little, if any oil will be recovered. Cold water does not support the micro-organisms that broke oil down after the massive BP Macondo spill in the warmer Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Should oil become trapped under the sea ice that covers the area for the majority of the year, experts believe the possibility it will be cleaned up is remote.

Pat Pourchot, who was the US Department of Interior’s special assistant for Alaska affairs until February this year, told the Guardian last week: “It’s really tough to talk about effective clean up. I don’t think anybody should have illusions. Clean up will be extremely modest.”

The frontrunner to succeed Barack Obama as leader of the Democrats, Hilary Clinton, broke with the president on Tuesday saying that Shell’s programme was too big a gamble.

“The Arctic is a unique treasure,” she tweeted in response to the BSEE approval. “Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling.”

The comment confirms the “doubts” Clinton expressed last month and raises the possibility that a Clinton White House would refuse permission for Shell to drill even if it confirms its suspicion that the US Arctic holds vast oil reserves.

– Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 18, 2015
The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling. -H

Obama has placed action on climate change at the centre of his presidential legacy. Earlier this month he implemented sweeping laws to curb power plant emissions and last week announced a trip to the Alaskan Arctic to visit climate affected communities.

But Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Marissa Knodel said: “When president Obama visits the Arctic this month, he must face the communities he is sacrificing to Shell’s profits.”

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said: “The president cannot have it both ways. Announcing a tour of Alaska to highlight climate change days before giving Shell the final approval to drill in the Arctic ocean is deeply hypocritical.”

Greenpeace have campaigned strongly for the Obama administration to refuse permission for Shell to explore for oil in the Arctic. In July, protesters from the organisation rappelled from a bridge in Portland and delayed the passage of the Fennica from the dry dock where it had been repaired.


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