The federal government has signed off on Shell Oil Company’s spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea, clearing a major hurdle for the Houston oil giant to begin drilling vast Arctic Ocean reserves off Alaska’s coast during the 2012 summer open water season. Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh says this is a big milestone but there’s still work to be done.
“We still have an authorization we need to get from National Marine Fisheries and we also have an authorization we need to get from the U.S Fish and Wildlife. And then finally and very importantly, we need the actual permits to drill approved. We have begun that process by beginning to submit some of the documentation to receive those permits and we’ll continue that process and that will continue for several weeks to come.”
Op de Weegh says one rig is in Seattle now and another will arrive next month or in April.
“We knew we had to bring everything with us in the event there is ever an incident. The new plan also includes a newly engineered Arctic capping and containment system and that is being built right now and we will test that before drilling begins this summer.”
The well sites in the Chukchi are more than 1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard base. Op de Weegh acknowledges the lack of infrastructure and says that’s why the spill plan approved today by the Interior department includes on site, near shore and on shore resources and an oil spill response fleet.
Arctic Ocean drilling is opposed by environmentalists who contend oil companies can’t clean up a crude oil spill in icy waters. Wilderness Society Alaska region spokesman Tim Woody says the decision is a disappointment. He says meeting the federal requirements for a spill plan does not translate into the real ability to recover oil in arctic and winter storm conditions.
“They managed to recover about three percent of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deep Water Horizon spill. It’s hard to believe that anybody in the oil industry can claim they’re going to recover a high percentage of oil in the arctic when they’ve been unable to do that anywhere else in the work under more hospitable conditions.”
The federal government estimates Arctic Ocean outer continental shelf reserves at more than 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
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