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After reading Carey Restino’s piece published in the Arctic Sounder and then the response to her article by Rex Rock, I felt compelled to add to the mix.
Rock wrote in his rebuttal to Restino’s story that “Shell estimates that suspension of drilling activities, mobilization, mooring, drilling a relief well and killing the flow using the second rig will take 34 days.”
On paper, this may seem like a reasonable time period for the drilling of a relief well if disaster strikes, but what of the variables that are out of the control of all involved? The Arctic can be stirred into a tempest regardless of the season. Can a rig continue to drill a relief well through the adverse weather that plagues the Arctic’s oceans? Has Shell answered how they would sidestep the ice that periodically moves through during an emergency situation such as that? On their previous attempt to drill in the region, they had to quickly move their operations after only one day of their 2012 drilling endeavor.
Have they considered that disaster may strike near the end of the drilling season when the adverse conditions that come with fall and winter come into play? Does this mean that because it would be physically impossible to contain a spill during that time of year, that those 34 days turn into hundreds of days of oil gushing into such a fragile environment?
Even if mother nature played along and weather conditions were in their favor, how would they deal with the currents that churn through the area? The oil industry doesn’t have the capability to clean up an oil spill in areas of the world where warmer temperatures abound and calmer currents are in play, and they are near the source of the tools that they need to address the issue. But the industry believes they can meet the challenge in harsher conditions and with less resources to target a disaster? The nearest major port is 1,300 miles away in Dutch Harbor.
Even if nature allowed them the time to clean up an oil spill, what technologies are they going to utilize to target the gooey mess in such pristine water? Surely not the same technology that failed them so miserably in the Gulf of Mexico.
In sea conditions where the wave height increases above mere inches, the containment boom used by the oil industry proves useless as oil sloshes over the minimal containment. In the Chukchi Sea, wave heights of just inches is rare and waves of several feet are the norm.
But, the industry counters that they have other tools in their oil spill arsenal. There is the containment dome that Shell tested that would be used to cap a well before oil ever got to the levels that extensive containment boom would be needed. But, that containment dome crushed like a beer can when tested.
Shell argues that cleanup should not have to be done completely through mechanical means. They state that dispersants work well in an oil spill. One only need to look to the Gulf of Mexico to see the shortfalls of that technology, and the damage that we have only begun to be aware of.
Alaskan wildlife such as Walrus, Seal and Polar Bear, as well as the ever so important bottom of the food chain would suffer immeasurably and the arctic habitat would surely collapse. How would the indigenous people of the region subsist when there is no longer anything to subsist on? As a whaling captain, Mr. Rock, doesn’t that thought make you shiver just a little bit?
Another tool in the oil industry’s tool belt, and one mentioned along with dispersants in a handout Shell officials gave to OMB and the White House in September is “in situ burning,” Shell said, “Depending on spill characteristics and metaocean conditions, dispersants and in situ burning are more effective at cleaning up an oil spill than is mechanical recovery equipment.”
Can you imagine that? Igniting a hydrocarbon fire in the arctic? You think arctic melt is something now, wait until you lay down a layer of soot over thousands of square miles of white pristine environment. The albedo effect would be non-existent. The arctic melt we are experiencing now would be insignificant compared to what we would experience in that scenario.
But, Shell will bring in two drill rigs, thus cutting down on the risks of an extensive oil spill, right? Mr Rock says that having two drill rigs onsite allows one rig to terminate its drilling to come to the aid of the other if need be to drill a relief well. But, Shell’s Curtis Smith and the Shell Washington Handout said no blowouts have ever been controlled through a relief well in the last four decades that records have been kept.
But, having that extra drill rig allays fears I suppose, unless you figure that the “Polar Pioneer” rig is decades old, built in the 80s and delivered in 1985, and is years behind technologically. While oil companies rush to build technologically superior rigs to stand up to the rigors of arctic drilling, Shell would send in a 30-year-old rig that in their own words will accomplish nothing in a blowout scenario.The oil companies say that they have the tools to address an oils spill in an arctic environment, but we haven’t seen it.
Meanwhile, individual small companies such as Retriever Environmental and others have worked for years to show the superior capabilities of their design and technology and continue to be turned away, not just by oil companies but governments that turn a blind eye to anyone that is not affiliated with those companies.
Don’t we owe it to the people of Alaska as well as the world, to explore these other technologies and designs before we rush head-long into the Arctic? One spill disaster in such a pristine environment is one too many.