Shell shutdown illustrates hazards of Arctic Ocean drilling

Sep 10, 2012
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (Sept. 10, 2012) – After years of legal hurdles and the investment of more than $4 billion in its effort to drill in the Arctic Ocean, Royal Dutch Shell spent only one day drilling in the Chukchi Sea before halting operations because of

“Clearly, sea ice is a problem even now, during summer,” said Lois Epstein, an Alaska-licensed engineer and The Wilderness Society’s Arctic Program Director.  “Chukchi Sea oil likely will be among the most expensive oil in the world to produce and transport to markets. Today’s ice conditions illustrate the difficulties Shell and others are likely to face for decades to come.”

The presence of this enormous body of sea ice – initial reports indicated it measured 12 miles by 30 miles -- means that there may not be time this summer to reposition the drillship and resume drilling.

While Shell is allowed by the Department of the Interior to drill above oil-bearing zones in the Chukchi this summer, the Dutch company must stop drilling on September 24. In theory, that would leave enough time to drill a relief well should there be a blowout before sea ice becomes a major problem.

Epstein said Shell is trying to “mark its space” in the Chukchi Sea this summer, whether or not Shell or the nation is ready to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.  

“In its relentless push to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this summer, both Shell and the Obama administration have spent enormous amounts of money for little gain, and placed the Arctic marine and coastal environments at great risk,” Epstein said.

Tim Woody