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White House Proposes First-Ever Rules For Oil Drilling In The Arctic

White House Proposes First-Ever Rules For Oil Drilling In The Arctic thumbnail

The Obama administration has proposed the first-ever safety regulations for drilling in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean, where big oil companies have long been hoping to lay their claim.

The proposed rule, which is preliminary and is expected to take at least a year to reach its final version, would for the first time impose specific requirements on oil companies that want to take the plunge into the Arctic’s icy waters. Among those are requirements for companies to have contingency plans for mishaps — companies must be able to “promptly deploy” emergency containment equipment to deal with a spill, and must build a second rig close to their initial operations so a relief well could be drilled in the event of a blowout, among other things.

Only exploratory drilling is covered by the rule, not large-scale production, which is not expected to be approved for another few years. Thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas — up to 160 billion barrels of oil — are thought to be held in the Arctic.

On the one hand, environmentalists are glad that some kind of safety rule has been proposed, but on the other, they are queasy about the prospect of drilling in one of the most environmentally sensitive and isolated areas of the world. One of the loudest criticisms of Arctic drilling is that oil spills there would be notoriously hard to clean — weather conditions are frigid and often unpredictable. In a 2011 report, Canada’s National Energy Board found that even during the warm season, cleanup conditions are not possible about 20 percent of the time in June, 40 percent of the time in August and 65 percent of the time in October.

Most environmental groups point to Royal Dutch Shell’s disastrous attempt to drill in the Arctic in 2012 as reason for their concern. While the company was towing its Kulluk oil rig out into Dutch Harbor via ship, a harsh winter storm hit and the ship lost control of the rig. The rig, along with 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid, then washed up on an island along one of Alaska’s pristine coastlines.

Climate change is also often cited as a problem. Though the warming oceans and atmosphere is gradually making it easier for ships to foray into Arctic waters, drilling there has been shown pose further risks to the climate, via the continued burning of fossil fuels and released of black carbon and methane from the drilling process itself.

“There is no proven way to respond to a spill in icy Arctic waters and, as Shell unfortunately demonstrated, companies simply are not ready for the Arctic Ocean,” Susan Murray, Ocean’s deputy vice president for the Pacific, told the Guardian. “Until and unless companies can operate safely and without harming the Arctic Ocean ecosystem, the government has no business allowing them into the region.”

Still, the U.S. government has allowed at least three companies into the region, one of which is Shell. Despite its mishap in 2012, the company still has its initial permits from the U.S Department of Interior, which in 2011 gave it permission to drill four shallow-water wells there. Though it is facing lawsuits over those permits, Shell still hopes to begin drilling by this summer, long before the rules are expected to be finalized.

Statoil and ConocoPhillips also own leases in the U.S. Arctic, but neither have released plans to drill there in the immediate future. No company is currently drilling there.

Think progress

4 Comments on "White House Proposes First-Ever Rules For Oil Drilling In The Arctic"

  1. Plantagenet on Sat, 21st Feb 2015 4:59 pm 

    Its highly unlikely that any company will drill in the Arctic until the oil glut is over, and according to shortonoil’s etp model that won’t be for five years or more.

  2. Go Speed Racer on Sat, 21st Feb 2015 5:28 pm 

    HA this one be just like Dairy Queen. Hot Fudge Sundae = Oil and Snow. Now sprinkle on some nuts, I mean, some republicans. 🙂

  3. dave thompson on Sat, 21st Feb 2015 10:50 pm 

    As the climate catastrophe unfolds in the next couple of years, we will expect an ice free arctic starting in the September minimum. Once the blue water event takes hold, the ice will disappear completely in short order. We will see a 10 to 50 gigaton burst of methane hydrates. The jump in temp. will be in the range of 2-6c rise in a matter of a year or two. An ice free arctic is probable this September. I doubt humans have time left for drilling in the arctic ocean.

  4. rockman on Sun, 22nd Feb 2015 6:47 pm 

    I’m sorry to have to do this but I’m very disappointed with our above average intelligence group here. No one has pointed out the error of the title of this piece. No problem with folks pointing out the risks of drilling in such a harsh climate. But did everyone blindly accept the absurd notion that Shell Oil was allowed to move a drill rig in to the Arctic OCS WITH NO SAFTEY REGS INPLACE? The title is pure propagandist chumming IMHO.

    From your federal govt: “The Alaska Outer Continental Shelf encompasses the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, the Bering Sea, Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Alaska. BOEM’s Alaska Region Office is responsible for managing the development of oil, natural gas, renewable energy and mineral resources on Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf in an environmentally and economically responsible way. To that end, it manages programs relating to lease management, exploration plans, environmental science, environmental analysis and resource evaluation. It oversees more than one billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf and more than 6,000 miles of coastline – more coastline than in the rest of the United States combined.”

    The Arctic OCS region has been under the same safety regs as the Gulf of Mexico OCS as well as all the other OCS regions. So maybe they want special regs for the Arctic? The same existing regs cover the Cook Inlet region of the OCS, a region on the southern coast of Alaska that could be consider even more dangerous than the open Arctic.

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