UPDATE, Aug. 17
Arctic drilling may be delayed until next year, because Shell’s
oil-containment vessel is still not ready, according to Secretary
of Interior Ken Salazar.
“I will hold their feet to the fire in terms of making sure that
we are doing everything we can to abide by the standards and
regulations we have set, and to make sure that the environment and
the Arctic seas are protected,” Salazar said during a press
conference in Anchorage.
A shell spokesman expressed hope that the drilling would still
begin this fall.
For details, see the stories by Lisa Demer of the
Anchorage Daily News and Olga Belogolova of the
UPDATE, July 31
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is not sitting around waiting for
Shell to begin its drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. Greenpeace
biologists have reported the presence of a soft coral at the drill
site. I’m not sure how significant this is, but Julie Eilperin of
Washington Post has the story. Greenpeace
has the photo.
UPDATE, June 29
Shell's drilling vessel Kulluk
leaves Seattle Wednesday. / Photo by Associated
The U.S. Department of Interior released a five-year plan for
oil and gas leases yesterday, as two Shell exploratory rigs headed
out of Puget Sound on their way to the Alaskan Arctic.
The Shell drilling vessels Kulluk and Noble Discoverer were
headed for Alaska’s Dutch Harbor, where they will wait until the
ice clears in Beaufort and Chukchi seas. See
Vigor’s news release about alterations made to the two
news release with links to the plans, David J. Hayes, deputy
secretary of the Interior, said :
“We are committed to moving forward with leasing offshore
Alaska, and scheduling those sales later in the program allows for
further development of scientific information on the oil and gas
resource potential in these areas and further study of potential
impacts to the environment. We must reconcile energy resource
development with the sensitive habitats, unique conditions and
important other uses, including subsistence hunting and fishing,
that are present in Alaska waters.”
UPDATE, June 27
This week, the Obama administration will announce a five-year
program for offshore oil-leasing. It will include targeted areas
for exploration and drilling in Alaska’s Arctic, Secretary of
Interior Ken Salazar said yesterday.
Salazar said permits to allow Shell to conduct exploratory
drilling in the Arctic, as we have discussed in this blog, are
likely to be issued soon.
Associated Press writer Dan Joling does a nice job explaining
Salazar’s comments. See
UPDATE, June 22
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza has arrived in Alaskan waters. Photo
posted on Twitter.
UPDATE, June 12, 3 p.m.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza has left Seattle on its way to the
Arctic, according to ongoing reports on Twitter. As
of 3 p.m., the ship is just crossing the Edmonds-Kingston ferry
UPDATE, June 12, 2:30 p.m.
I’ve added maps of the two drilling areas at the bottom of this
After anchoring for nearly a week in South Kitsap’s Yukon
Harbor, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on Friday moved over to
Seattle, where it now waits for Shell’s oil-drilling rigs to shove
off for Alaska.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza was
anchored in Yukon Harbor for nearly a week.
Photo by Tom Warren
Shell obtained an
injunction (PDF 32 kb) against Greenpeace in hopes of
preventing environmental activists from boarding its oil rig and
unfurling banners or causing more serious damage.
Shell is clearly concerned, as outlined in
legal documents (PDF 60 kb) in support of the injunction:
“After obtaining multiple approvals from various federal
agencies, and after completing preparations that have been years
and billions of dollars in the making, Shell intends to lawfully,
safely, and responsibly carry out an exploration drilling program
on its leases in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the summer of
“Greenpeace intends to prevent Shell from doing so, and has
initiated tortious and illegal actions to accomplish this
publically-stated intent. Greenpeace’s past and present actions
establish that Greenpeace can and will engage in dangerous and
illegal activities that place human life, property, and the
environment at risk, all in an effort to impose its will and to
capitalize on publicity generated by its antics.”
Greenpeace says its goal is to shadow the oil rigs and document
the activities from miniature submarines to help the public
understand the dangers that drilling poses to the fragile Arctic
See Kitsap Sun, June 4.
For environmentalists, the biggest question is: How did this
drilling ever get approval? Why did a Democratic president allow
Shell to get all the permits necessary to explore for oil in the
Arctic, after strong opposition through the years succeeded in
keeping drilling rigs out of the Arctic.
Shell was strategic in its approach, as described in a
well-researched story by John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss for the
New York Times:
“Beyond the usual full-court lobbying effort, Shell abandoned
its oil industry brethren and joined advocates pushing for a strong
response to climate change.
“Ultimately, Shell won the backing of a president it had viewed
warily during the 2008 campaign. While he signaled conditional
support for the proposal years ago, Mr. Obama came under pressure
from rising gasoline prices and the assiduous lobbying of a
freshman Democratic senator from Alaska eager to show he could make
things happen in Washington.
“The move also provides the president a measure of political
cover. ‘Alaska tends to be a litmus test for the energy debate,’
said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of energy policy research at Rice
University. ‘When Romney says the president is anti-drilling and
causes high gas prices, Obama can turn around and say, “I approved
drilling in Alaska.”’”
executive order, Obama set up a special interagency commission
to oversee “the safe and responsible development of onshore and
offshore energy resources and associated infrastructure in
Obama’s steady pressure in favor of drilling in the Arctic
(“It’s not deep water, right?”) eventually overcame concerns within
his own administration, despite warnings from the commission
investigating the BP oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the NY Times article:
“The commission’s final report said that for Arctic drilling to
be done safely, ‘both industry and government will have to
demonstrate standards and a level of performance higher than they
have ever achieved before.’ …
“The government strengthened its Arctic research programs to
better understand the impact of increased industrial activity in
the northern ocean. Those and other concessions seemed to placate
officials at the permitting agencies, who were navigating between
their regulatory duties and the president’s obvious desire to
“Shell’s permits came in a rush.
Interior approved exploration in both seas by last December.
Response plans were endorsed in February and March of this year.
The EPA’s appeals board cleared the final air permits at the end of
March — just as the whaling season got under way. NOAA came through
marine mammal permit in early May.”
As far as I can tell, Shell is waiting only for its final
drilling permits from the Department of Interior and for the ice to
clear in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
Shell's oil-drilling rig Kulluk
prepares to head for Alaska. This photo was taken last year on its
way into Seattle.
AP file photo, 2011
As Shell’s oil rigs prepare to pull out of Seattle, Alaska’s
governor and the state’s two U.S. senators recently visited Seattle
to take a look at Shell’s oil rigs on the eve of the historic
drilling activity, as reported by Jennifer A. Dlouhy of the
Dlouhy quoted Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, as expressing
confidence in Shell’s ability to drill safely: “I think they know
as well as anybody that there is no margin for cutting
The article also included environmental concerns about an oil
spill in the fragile Arctic ecosystem, which could be worse than
the Exxon Valdez in Prince Williams Sound, where oil is still
showing up 23 years after a multibillion-dollar cleanup.
“If there is a spill in the Arctic, the oil and damage will
almost certainly degrade slower and last longer,” Richard Steiner,
former marine conservation professor at the University of Alaska
was quoted as saying.
A new story out this morning in
Macleans magazine includes an interview with Peter Voser, chief
executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell, who touches briefly on this
summer’s drilling in the Arctic:
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