Shell Begins Preparatory Drilling in Arctic
The controversial project to begin drilling for offshore oil in the Arctic, led by Royal Dutch Shell, has gotten underway, according to a statement from the company. Preparatory drilling in the search for new oil wells began in the Chukchi Sea, about 90 miles from the Alaskan North Slope, late last month.
The project has been given tentative approval from the U.S. government that allows only for “certain limited preparatory activities” in the region, including the installation of a blowout prevention device; the stipulation regarding added protections comes following continued public anger at BP’s record-setting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 after a methane explosion sank a rig, leaving the unattended well to pump oil into open waters.
“Today marks the culmination of Shell’s six-year effort to explore for potentially significant oil and gas reserves, which are believed to lie under Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf,” said a written statement from company spokesman Curtis Smith. “In the days to come, drilling will continue in the Chukchi Sea, and we will prepare for drilling to commence in the Beaufort Sea.”
The road to drilling for oil in the Arctic has been a long one for both Shell and environmental groups that have strongly opposed the project, with each side battling back and forth in the court of public opinion concerning the pros and cons of the undertaking. Green advocacy group Sierra Club has been particularly outspoken, condemning the launching of a project that they say has not yet been fully researched.
“While this is an interim step only, this is like a building inspector letting a developer start construction on a skyscraper on shaky ground before the safety plans are even complete,” a Sierra Club statement said in August. “It’s premature, it’s unwarranted and it’s wrong – especially when it’s happening in one of the most pristine places on earth.”
How long this exploratory project will last and when Shell will be given the go-ahead to move into new territory with its drilling is likely to depend heavily on the outcome of both current investigations into the BP spill and the result of the upcoming presidential election.