Shell Does its Keystone Cops Imitation in the Arctic

Posted By Lowell F. on January 2nd, 2013

Reading this story, Shell comes across looking like the Keystone Cops in the Arctic.

It appears 2013 will begin much like 2012 ended for Shell’s Arctic Ocean drilling efforts – with yet another mishap.

After several failed attempts to secure the equipment in harsh weather, Shell’s enormous Kulluk drilling rig ran aground near Kodiak Island, Alaska late Monday night. With approximately 143,000 gallons of fuel and 12,000 gallons of lubricating oil and hydraulic fluid on board, the Coast Guard is now preparing for the “salvage and possible spill-response phase of this event.” Two Coast Guard flyovers on Tuesday did not detect any leakage but a severe winter storm – with winds up to 70 mph and waves as high as 50 feet – has prevented crews from conducting a full assessment of the damage.

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Like each of the incidents before it, the ongoing crisis with the Kulluk underscores the numerous challenges presented by operating in the Arctic, as well as the industry’s lack of preparedness to anticipate and overcome them. Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean carries an enormous amount of risk – a fact pointed out not just by environmentalists but a major insurance companybanklegislative body, and even a fellow oil major among others.

As Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) emphasized in a statement released Tuesday, “Oil companies keep saying they can conquer the Arctic, but the Arctic keeps disagreeing with the oil companies … Drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment.

Given the tremendous risks to the environment involved in Arctic oil drilling, as well as the demonstrated inability of Shell to deal with them adequately, it raises the obvious question: Maybe Shell, and the rest of the oil industry, shouldn’t be operating there at all?

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