Critics say grounding shows Arctic drilling danger
This aerial image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, Incident Management Team commander, observing the Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk aground during an overflight off a small island near Kodiak Island Tuesday Jan. 1, 2013. No leak has been seen from the drilling ship that grounded off the island during a storm, officials said Wednesday, as opponents criticized the growing race to explore the Arctic for energy resources. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard, Sara Francis / AP
By DAN JOLING
January 2, 2013
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The grounding of a petroleum drilling ship on a remote Alaska island has refueled the debate over oil exploration in the U.S. Arctic Ocean, where critics for years have said the conditions are too harsh and the stakes too high to allow dangerous industrial development.
The drilling sites are 1,000 miles from Coast Guard resources, and environmentalists argue offshore drilling in the Arctic's fragile ecosystem is too risky. So when a Royal Dutch Shell PLC ship went aground on New Year's Eve on an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Alaska, they pounced — saying the incident foreshadowed what will happen north of the Bering Strait if drilling is allowed.
For oil giant Shell, which leads the way in drilling in the frontier waters of the U.S Arctic, a spokesman said the grounding will be a learning experience in the company's yearslong effort to draw oil from beneath the ocean floor, which it maintains it can do safely. Though no wells exist there yet, Shell has invested billions of dollars gearing up for drilling in the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas, off Alaska's north and northwest coast.
The potential bounty is high: The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 26.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 130 trillion cubic feet of natural gas exist below Arctic waters.