Mishaps and missteps raise doubts about Arctic drilling
Source: Marilyn Heiman, The Kansas City Star
Oil industry plans to drill exploratory wells in America's Arctic Ocean got off to an inauspicious start recently, when a Shell Oil Co. drilling ship slipped anchor and drifted perilously close to the beach at Alaska's Dutch Harbor. A tugboat pulled the massive rig back into place, and the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating.
The mishap - along with a series of other troubling setbacks - raises a question that some of us have been asking for the past year: Are we really ready to drill in such a remote and risky setting?
Arctic conditions are among the most extreme on Earth, including hurricane-force winds, high seas, impenetrable fog, and shifting sea ice. Preventing an accident in such conditions is going to be far more challenging than anchoring a rig in the 35-mph winds and 4-foot seas reported in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, during the recent incident. If there is a spill in the Arctic, just getting people and equipment to such a remote location will be daunting: Dutch Harbor, 1,000 miles south of the proposed drilling site, is the nearest major port. And even then, there is no proven method of cleaning up oil inbroken ice.
Fears of an oil spill have been countered by promises of robust prevention and cleanup efforts, as part of a bid to drill up to 10 exploratory wells this summer and next. But recent troubles beyond the grounding incident do not inspire confidence.
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