Arctic Drilling: From Improbable To Inevitable

Shell Oil's seven-year, $4 billion investment has paid off. Awaiting final Interior Dept. permits, two drilling ships, moored in Seattle, are poised to travel to the Arctic to begin drilling test wells in 150 ft of water off northern Alaska in July.

In this feature article, John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss look at the conditions, including the legacy of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, that led to Shell Oil's successful pursuit of the right to drill in the fragile Arctic waters. Shell took a different political course than its Big Oil brethren as it set about wooing potential adversaries by "pushing for a strong response to climate changes."

Its biggest obstacle proved not to be President Obama, "under pressure from rising gas prices" nor the mainstream environmental organizations who remain opposed to the effort.

"Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a member of the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling characterized the exploration as "a reckless gamble we cannot afford."

The 5,000 Inupiat Eskimos who see the drilling as a threat to their whale-based culture, and their leader, North Slope Borough Mayor Edward S. Itta whose "gravitas grew from his acclaim as one of the area's finest whaling captains", proved to be the greatest obstacle. As Broder writes in his Green blog, these Eskimos are the ones most likely to suffer should there be an oil spill.

"Shell company executives say (the Arctic) could eventually yield a million barrels a day of crude - or more than 10 percent of current domestic output." [U.S. Crude oil plus petroleum products of 8.5 mb/day + natural gas liquids of 2 mb/day.]

As possibly an omen of the difficulties in drilling in the Arctic that await Shell, "the heaviest polar ice in more than a decade is clinging to the northern coast of Alaska could postpone the commencement of offshore oil drilling until the beginning of August", reports the LA Times.

Full Story: New and Frozen Frontier Awaits Offshore Oil Drilling

Comments

Comments

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

U.S. Appeals Ct.: "Let the Arctic Drilling Begin"

E&E Greenwire (subscription) reports May 29: "A federal appeals court late last week upheld an oil company's plan to drill a handful of new wells this summer in the Arctic Ocean, clearing the way for a project that could unlock the nation's largest untapped oil deposit.

The ruling (May 25) by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms the Interior Department's decisions last year to issue exploration plans allowing Royal Dutch Shell PLC to drill five wells beginning in July in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The three-judge panel rejected claims by more than a dozen native Alaskan and environmental groups that Shell's exploration plan lacked critical information on how it would cap and contain oil in the case of a blowout and that approval was granted before issuance of an oil spill response plan, among other claims....." (continues)
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Let the Arctic Spilling Begin.

We all know what comes next with our oil addiction: ecological damage, this time likely worse as weather in winter will prevent mobilization.

Michael Klare discussed this problem recently on Yale e360.

Population biology, at work right in front of our eyes. We are not exempt from the laws of nature, and we should expect no other outcome than what happens to every other species that does what we are doing.

[/ecologist's soapbox]

Best,

D

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

More on Shell's drilling in Arctic

CNN Money published "Why Shell is betting billions to drill for oil in Alaska" on May 24, providing more insight into Shell's 'bet'.

Jon Birger writes, "At its peak, offshore oil production in the region could top 1.45 million barrels a day."

"Shell is making big bet there, but I think it's justified based on the geology," says Oswald Clint, an oil analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein and a geophysicist by training."
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Arctic energy.

Expect more of this to come soon as we begin our energy descent. Who knows what it will take to stop.

Best,

D

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

The Race To Regain #2 Biggest Oil Producer in U.S.

Interesting letter to editor from Mead Treadwell, Lt. Gov of Alaska on North Dakota's usurpation of Alaska as #2 behind Texas.

"News that North Dakota has overtaken Alaska in oil production tells the story of shale oil’s ascendancy in the country’s oil supply. But the potential of Alaska’s offshore resources could put Alaska back on top.

Some would like us to believe that it’s too risky to explore the 25 billion barrels of potential oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. They argue that we should leave nearly a quarter of our known, technically recoverable outer continental shelf resources in place. This ignores science and the facts......"

Choose your technology - fracking or drilling under the Arctic Ocean - that's where the "unconventional oil" world has taken us.

Note: I'm not sure drilling under Arctic in "low-pressure wells in 150 feet of water" qualifies as 'unconventional! But it seems as if it should!
of Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

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