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.
May 28, 2012, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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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:
Published on Thursday, May 24, 2012 in The New York Times - Environment
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