On Monday night, an oil drilling rig owned by Dutch Royal Shell ran aground on Sitkalidak Island in southern Alaska, prompting fears of an oil spill. As of yesterday no oil was seen leaking from the rig according to the Coast Guard, but efforts to secure the rig have floundered due to extreme weather. The rig, dubbed Kulluk, contains over 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel.
The incident occurred when harsh weather caused the rig to break free from a ship that was towing the Kulluk from the Arctic back to its winter headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Rescuers quickly evacuated.
Environmental groups were quick to point out that the stranded rig represented their long-expressed fears that drilling in the Arctic was too risky to be worthwhile.
“[Shell] claims to have a ‘world class’ Arctic programme in place to deal with any accidents, but the running aground of the Kulluk again shows how utterly incapable Shell is of operating safely in one of the planet’s most remote and extreme environments,” Ben Ayliffe with Greenpeace wrote on a blog today.
Shell has already suffered a number of setbacks and embarrassments this year in its attempt to drill off-shore in the Arctic. After finally gaining the permits to drill in the Arctic seabed by the Obama Administration, numerous problems meant Shell had to abandon any hope of drilling this summer, but the oil giant plans to return next summer.
Critics argue that the harsh weather, floating ice, and remoteness of Arctic waters means it should be off-limits to oil drilling. Shell’s plans, and the Obama Administration’s approval, has been opposed by environmentalists, indigenous people, and some locals.
Shell is only able to operate in the region during the short Arctic summer before winter ice sets in, but this also means if a spill occurs at the end of the season it could be impossible to clean up. This problem was recently reaffirmed by the U.S. Coast Guard after conducting its first test of oil recovery systems for cleaning up a potential Arctic spill.
“It does not work in icy waters but it does work in the open waters of the Arctic,” Coast Guard Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo said at the time.
Crews are now waiting for weather to clear before attempting to gain control of the rig again.
(10/29/2012) Twelve miles off shore from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge floats a seemingly tiny man-made device—at least from an airplane—but it’s actually a 160-foot high Shell Dutch Royal oil drilling rig. While the hugely controversial plan to drill for oil in the Arctic ocean was postponed this year due to a variety of mishaps and delays, the Shell rig is expected to be in the area until the end of month drilling top holes in the ocean floor to prep oil drilling next year.
(09/19/2012) Some twenty days after breaking the record for the lowest sea ice extent, the Arctic sea ice has hit a new rock bottom and finally begun its seasonal recovery. In the end, the Arctic sea ice extent fell to just 3.4 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles) when only a few months ago scientists were wondering if it would break the 4 million square kilometers. The speed of the sea ice decline due to climate change has outpaced all the computer models, overrun all expert predictions, and shocked even the gloomiest scientists.
(09/18/2012) Following global protests, a series of embarrassing mishaps, and a lengthy regulatory process, Dutch Royal Shell has announced it is abandoning its hugely controversial off-shore oil drilling in the Arctic—this year. The announcement came after the company damaged a containment dome meant to cap an oil spill. The incident was the latest in a series of delays and problems that oil the giant faced in its $4 billion plan to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
(09/11/2012) A new film, opening in the U.S. in November, follows the exploits of National Geographic photographer, James Balog, as he attempts to photograph the end of glaciers and great ice sheets, which are diminishing and, in some cases, collapsing under the heat of global climate change. The film, which won a cinematography award at Sundance, documents the lengths one person will go to capture images of a vanishing world.
(09/10/2012) With the approval of the Obama Administration, Royal Dutch Shell began drilling into the ocean floor of the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska yesterday morning. The controversial operation, which has been vehemently opposed by environmental and Native groups, will likely only last a few weeks this year until the Arctic winter sets in. The U.S. government has said that Shell must complete operations by September 24th, however the oil giant has asked for an extension.