Nome fuel spill shows how ineffective oil-spill response can be in Alaska


The Wilderness Society continues to sound the warning that Shell lacks the ability to adequately respond to an offshore oil spill in remote, stormy seas that are covered in ice much of the year.

With no proven oil-recovery technology for Arctic conditions – or, for that matter, any technology that can recover more than a tiny percentage of spilled oil under temperate conditions – and the nearest  U.S. Coast Guard base hundreds of miles away, Shell nevertheless plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean until the end of October, beginning as early as next year if the company receives final approval.

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Company officials claim that everything will be fine.

But what would happen, we’ve asked over and over, if a spill occurred late in drilling season, when ice is forming and fall storms arise?

This week we got a hint.

A barge-towing vessel ran aground near Nome and spilled up to 1,000 gallons of fuel. Two days later, state officials still were waiting for winds and waves to calm down enough for recovery vessels to remove the disabled boat.

Was there environmental damage? We don’t know yet, because bad weather and rough sea conditions have kept the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation from assessing possible environmental damage.

And this is mid-September -- approximately six weeks before the end of Shell’s proposed drilling season in the Arctic Ocean, and at a latitude roughly 500 miles farther south than the Arctic Ocean.

Shell’s claim that it can drill in the Arctic Ocean safely, and mount an effective response to an Arctic oil spill, simply isn’t true.

Stormy seas don’t lie.