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Arctic oil rig runs aground

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.

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