Shell Starts U.S. Offshore Drilling as Nations Mull Changed Arctic
On August 27, after a scorching summer of record-breaking drought and heat across the U.S., scientists reported that summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean had shrunk to its lowest extent in recorded history—worrisome news to those concerned about polar bears or eroding Inupiat villages or other impacts of climate change.
(Related: “Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low-Extreme Weather to Come?”)
On the same day, however, a high-powered group of politicians, oil industry executives, shipping magnates, and investors gathered to discuss how best to exploit their good fortune.
“I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska,” Peter E. Slaiby, vice president of Shell* Alaska, told luminaries at the Arctic Imperative Summit at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, August 25-27. Slaiby’s company has thus far spent $4.5 billion over the past seven years in a much-delayed effort to explore for oil and gas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Arctic Alaska.
(Related: “Shell Scales Back 2012 Arctic Drilling Goals”)
The wait ended at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Alaska standard time, when Shell’s rig, the Noble Discoverer, began drilling a 1,400-foot (427-meter) pilot hole on its first exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea, the company said in a written statement. It was the first time a drill bit had touched the sea floor in U.S. territory in the Chukchi Sea in more than two decades, Shell said. The company also was in the process of anchoring a rig in the Beaufort Sea to begin drilling there later this week. Shell was allowed to begin drilling after it received a waiver from U.S. air pollution regulations for generators on its drill ship on Friday. But the company still is barred from drilling into the oil-bearing zone before its repurposed oil spill recovery barge, the Arctic Challenger, passes U.S. Coast Guard inspection and is towed to its station near Barrow, Alaska between the two drilling sites. Sea trials of the barge were underway off the coast of Bellingham, Washington; the Coast Guard has raised concerns over a range of issues, from fire protection systems to the vessel’s ability to withstand Arctic seas, and the company was cited for small leaks of hydraulic fluid while in port.