While the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off of the coast of Louisiana may be thousands of miles from the Arctic, the consequences will be felt in the frigid waters of the north. In Canada, industry observers have asked the National Energy Board to delay a hearing on drilling in the Arctic until more information has been gathered about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They want the oil companies interested in drilling in the Arctic, which includes BP Canada, Imperial Oil, Shell Canada and ConocoPhillips, to obtain more data about the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in order to apply them to offshore activities in the Arctic. A spokeswoman for the NEB, Sarah Kiley, said,

“Given this very tragic incident in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve asked the parties, ’what do you think we should do about this proceeding?”

ConocoPhillips responded to the request in a formal letter, stating,

“It is ConocoPhillips position that all stakeholders will benefit from investigation findings into the cause(s) of this incident as well as initial lessons learned from the incident response.”

Chevron, however, was less favorable towards postponing the hearings. The company wrote,

“The time required to attempt to gain a full understanding of the root causes behind the Deepwater Horizon incident will likely be considerable…Chevron is of the view that the scope of the broader (same-season relief well) capability policy review currently before the board is appropriate and should remain unchanged.”

Shell observed that it likely will not be able to comment on the possible consequences of the oil rig explosion in the Arctic until it has completed the clean-up in the Gulf, which could be a long way off. Shell is also determined to keep pursuing its offshore plans in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Spokesman Curtis Smith said,
“We don’t have any reason to believe those outstanding permits will be impacted by recent events in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that a similar explosion in the Arctic would be “unacceptable.” Canada has more stringent regulations on offshore oil drilling than the United States, including rules which force companies to drill relief wells at the same time as they drill initial wells as a preventative measure. Recently, companies have sought to overturn this regulation, saying it is costly and often difficult to do given the short drilling season in the Arctic. However, Harper was steadfast in his position, stating that Canada’s rules will not change. In fact, they are probably less likely to now than before. He added,
“As we have said before, the National Energy Board is clear. There is no drilling unless the environment is protected and unless workers are protected… This government will not tolerate the kind of situation we see in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Regardless of Canada’s tough rules, public opinion regarding offshore oil drilling could change, especially as the slick spreads and traps and engulfs more animals in its wake. Canadians may end up becoming more supportive of industries like oil sands, which have a reputation for being polluting. Yet accidents on land are easier to contain and clean up than those at sea.
The risk of environmental destruction is one reason prompting a group of organizations representing Alaskan indigenous peoples and conservationists to appeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to grant Shell Oil Clean Air Act permits, which would allow the company to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The group claims that drilling will harm the local Inupiat people and could prove detrimental to flora and fauna in the area. The group is also of the view that the EPA is not actually complying with the Clean Air Act. This is because the permits regulate technology on Shell’s drill ship, while the group believes a full 90% of the pollutants will come icebreakers and other auxiliary ships.

News links

Oil firms seek delay of probe into Arctic offshore rules in light of Gulf spill,” Red Deer Advocate (from the Canadian Press)

“As Gulf of Mexico Spill Worsens, Groups Challenge Shell’s Air Permits to Drill in the Arctic,” Center for Biological Diversity

“Canadians reminded that offshore drilling is playing with fire,” Vancouver Sun

“Offshore Drilling: An Arctic Future,” Investing Daily’

“Shell to proceed with Arctic offshore plans despite spill,” The News Tribune

Categories: Oil & Gas USA/Alaska


Deepwater Horizon: The consequences for the Arctic

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