© Mike Ross, Anchorage Daily News
(L-R): Sen. Begich, Sen. Murkowski, Rep. Young. © Bill Roth, Anchorage Daily News

Alaska’s three Congressional representatives – Senators Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R) and Representative Don Young (R) – are supporting Shell’s continued efforts to begin drilling for offshore oil on Alaska’s North Slope this July. On Monday, at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Anchorage, the three solicited questions from an audience of several hundred people. Begich declared that the country had a “moral obligation” to drill, saying,

“To consume, we must produce from our own land.”

According to the Anchorage Daily News, Representative Young said “the media is making the Gulf leak out to be a disaster but he doesn’t believe that it has reached that level. ‘It’s a tragedy,’ he said.” Apparently, he is also opposed to the investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster, joking that  “Congress is probably the worst place you can go to get facts.” The Alaskan lawmakers represent the views of many Alaskans, who were looking forward to Shell commencing drilling activities on the North Slope, especially since the current Trans-Alaska Pipeline is only operating at 1/3 capacity. Yet judging by the comments on the article, many Alaskans are also fervently against offshore oil.

Despite support from the state’s legislators, some at Shell are hesitant about the chances of drilling this summer. The Alaska Dispatch interviewed Shell’s General Manager of Alaska, Pete Slaiby. He manages Shell’s production and exploration activities there, most of which are concentrated on offshore oil. Slaiby candidly prefaced one comment with the comment,

“in the unlikely event we start.”

This statement comes despite the company’s earlier determination to continue pressing ahead with drilling this summer. Kelly op de Weegh, a spokesperson for Shell, contended that the company “would not consider drilling in Alaska unless we could do so safely and responsibly.” Shell is trying to make the case that drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off of the coast of Alaska’s North Slope is safer than activities on the Gulf Coast. There, the pressure per square inch (PSI) of the gas is expected to be only 100, compared to the gas at 4,000 PSI where BP was drilling. Such a high BP makes an explosion nearly impossible to stop with conventional technology. Conversely, any accident at 100 PSI could allegedly be stopped by “drilling mud.”

However, on Tuesday, U.S. Coast Guard official Brian Salerno testified before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure as part of Congress’ hearings on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He stated that in the Arctic, “it would be far more difficult to mount a response” were a disaster to occur. A group of 75 representatives, mostly Democrats, are similarly skeptical of the safety of offshore drilling in the Arctic. They are circulating a letter calling for a delay on drilling

“until the causes of this disaster are known and the administration has subsequently put in place improved and rigorous prevention technology requirements.”

The letter was to be sent to President Obama yesterday. Rep. Lois Capps (D., Calif.), Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D., N.Y.), and Rep. Jay Inslee (D., Wash.) were some of the representatives who introduced the bill. Rep. Capps has been quite vocal in calling for an investigation, introducing a bill to create an independent commission to look into the disaster. In the letter, the lawmakers also note that Arctic drilling comes with many hazards, including

“frigid temperatures, presence of sea ice, gale-force winds, intense storms, and heavy fog.”

Worse, they contend that an actual spill

“could also devastate Alaska Native communities who live in the Arctic and whose cultural survival relies heavily on fish and wildlife from the Arctic Ocean.”

Thus, Shell will have to do far more to convince Congress to allow it to proceed with drilling this summer.

The fight against offshore drilling extends farther than the Arctic. A separate group of 17 lawmakers have sent a letter to the Minerals Management Service demanding that Shell’s Atlantis Rig in the Gulf Coast be temporarily shut down until research into the Deepwater Horizon accident concludes. In the letter, they write,

“We are very concerned that the tragedy at Deepwater Horizon could foreshadow an accident at BP Atlantis, which is operating in deeper water than Horizon.”

Atlantis drills oil at depths of 7,000 feet. It obtains 200,000 barrels of oil a day and accounts for 13% of U.S. oil production, so shutting it down could affect world oil supplies.

News links

“A sit-down with Shell’s Alaska boss,” Alaska Dispatch

“Lawmakers to urge BP to idle its Atlantis rig,” Yahoo! News

“Lawmakers ask Obama to delay Shell’s Arctic plans,” Wall Street Journal

“House Dems pressure White House to block Arctic offshore drilling,” The Hill

Categories: Oil & Gas USA/Alaska


Alaskan legislators publicly offer support to Shell’s Arctic drilling while 75 Democrats opposed

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