Debate renews on potential dangers of drilling in Arctic Ocean
By The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
ANCHORAGE — The grounding of a petroleum drilling ship on a remote Alaska Island has refueled the debate about oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean, where critics for years have said the conditions are too harsh and the stakes too high to allow dangerous industrial development.
The drilling sites are 1,000 miles from Coast Guard resources, and environmentalists argue offshore drilling in the Arctic's fragile ecosystem is too risky. So when a Royal Dutch Shell PLC ship went aground on New Year's Eve off an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Alaska, they pounced — saying the incident foreshadowed what will happen north of the Bering Strait if drilling is allowed.
For oil giant Shell, which leads the way in drilling in the frontier waters of the Arctic, a spokesman said the incident will be a learning experience in the company's yearslong effort to draw oil from beneath the ocean floor, which it maintains it can do safely. Though no wells yet exist, Shell has invested billions of dollars gearing up for drilling in the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas, off Alaska's north and northwest coast.
The potential bounty is high: the U.S. Geological Survey estimates 26.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas exist in Arctic waters.
Environmentalists note the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas are some of the world's most wild and remote ecosystems on the planet. They're also some of the most fragile, supporting polar bears, the ice seals they feed on, walrus, endangered whales and other marine mammals that Alaska Natives depend on for their subsistence culture.
“The Arctic is just far different than the Gulf of Alaska or even other places on earth,” said Marilyn Heiman, U.S. Arctic director for the Pew Environment Group.
Royal Dutch Shell PLC in 2008 spent $2.1 billion on Chukchi Sea leases and estimates it has spent nearly $5 billion gearing up for drilling there and in the Beaufort. Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said the company has a long, successful history of working offshore in Alaska and is confident it can build another multidecade business in the Arctic.
“Our success here is not by accident,” Smith said. “We know how to work in regions like this. Having said that, when flawless execution does not happen, you learn from it, and we will.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Senator wants fast action on rail safety
- Former National Security Agency contractor Snowden’s leaks to cost billions, take years to fix
- El Nino could bring relief to U.S.
- Sex-crimes prosecutor accused in groping
- Crisis stymies Obama getaway
- Lawmakers vote to bar ‘upskirt’ photos in Massachusetts
- Gillibrand sex assault bill halted by fellow Democrat
- Shuster plans oversight for DUI program
- Health marketplace targets not signing up, survey shows
- ‘Senior officers should not do that,’ Army leader says in pleading guilty to misconduct charges
- ‘Drug czar’ cleared to lead Border Patrol