Obama to suspend Arctic oil drilling

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shell's experimental drilling locations
Image: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and US Department of the Interior.

According to Democratic Senator Mark Begich from Alaska, the U.S. Department of the Interior has decided to halt all new Arctic exploratory oil drilling applications until 2011. The response is believed to be caused in part by the two current oil spill disasters (that of the Deepwater Horizon Incident and more recently the Alaska oil pipeline malfunction). However, Begich is not happy about the actions taken by the White House.

"I am frustrated that this decision by the Obama administration to halt offshore development for a year will cause more delays and higher costs for domestic oil and gas production to meet the nation's energy needs," Begich claims.

Senator Mark Begich
Image: Jeff McEvoy.

Last September, the state of Alaska made a public notice about Shell's desire to drill off the coast of the Beaufort Sea, placing experimental drilling rigs at two drill site location: "Torpedo" and "Sivulliq".

"Shell is committed to undertaking a safe and environmentally responsible exploration program in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in 2010," said Shell Oil Company President Marvin E. Odum to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service (MMS).

Odum follows with, "I am confident that we are ready to conduct the 2010 Arctic exploratory program safely and, I want to be clear, the accountability for this program rests with Shell."

Chuck Clausen, director of the Alaska project at the National Resources Defense Council is not so optimistic: "Hazards present in the Arctic can include frigid temperatures, presence of sea ice, gale-force winds, intense storms and heavy fog ... The potential for loss in the Arctic is great."

Odum believes that the climate in the arctic will make any spill easier to clean up because, "Arctic conditions create differences in responding to oil in cold and ice conditions. Differences in evaporation rates, viscosity and weathering provide greater opportunities to recover oil. In Arctic conditions, ice can aid oil spill response by slowing oil weathering, dampening waves, preventing oil from spreading over large distances, and allowing more time to respond."

However, Clausen believes that there are no current systems to remove oil from icy ocean waters.

This is not the first time that President Obama's administration has taken the environmentally cautious path in Alaska. The President put Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas exploration until 2017. Bristol Bay currently is one of the top salmon fishing grounds in the state.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to give a speech at Thursday's White House address, regarding the suspension of Arctic oil drilling projects.


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