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Shell foes will never accept Arctic drilling

COMPASS: Other points of view

By PETE SLAIBY Published: January 4th, 2012

Pete Slaiby is vice president for Shell Alaska.

In her recent opinion piece (Jan. 2), Wilderness Society Arctic Program Director Lois Epstein assumes that neither Alaskans, the nation nor Shell are “ready to drill safely in the Arctic.” Ms. Epstein then dismisses decades of data that indicate otherwise and claims drilling in the Arctic would lead to a “reasonable likelihood of disaster.” The fact is, Shell and others have successfully drilled more than 35 wells in the Alaska offshore without incident — not counting the Cook Inlet wells that have helped heat Anchorage homes for over 50 years.

It’s unfortunate Ms. Epstein continues to lean on hyperbole in her attempts to stop offshore drilling. There are hard questions being asked of Shell — appropriately so — by regulators and stakeholders from Alaska’s coastal communities — all part of a dialogue that’s been taking place for years on this important topic. But organizations like the one Ms. Epstein represents have consistently proven they are not interested in these constructive forums.

Nor are they interested in the facts.

In list-like fashion, Ms. Epstein states that “very few” post-Macondo blowout findings have been implemented. Not true. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have made significant changes to the requirements for offshore exploration. These include a new section on Safety and Environmental Management and new planning requirements. The bureaus have also issued numerous Notices to Lessees which incorporate learnings from Macondo. Ms. Epstein, as a member of BSEE’s Offshore Energy Safety Advisory Committee, should be aware of these changes — including Shell’s commitment to a capping and containment system similar to the one that stopped the BP blowout.

In her letter, Ms. Epstein claims not enough is known about the ecology of the Arctic. Not true. A 100-year compendium of scientific data proves the Alaska Arctic is one of the most studied regions in modern history. The collection of new data will continue to be driven by industry’s interest in the region. Shell, alone, has dedicated more resources to arctic science in the last five years than all federal agencies combined. Ms. Epstein labels as “primitive” the tools and techniques available for cleaning up oil in the Arctic. Again, Ms. Epstein has not done her homework. Oil in ice research has been ongoing for more than 30 years and field trials prove there are several effective ways to recover oil in arctic conditions. In addition to leading these research projects, Shell has spent hundreds of millions of dollars ensuring that ice-capable vessels and Arctic-tested oil spill assets will be on-site in the extremely unlikely event they are needed. No other company has assembled the oil spill response assets that Shell has in Alaska.

Ms. Epstein goes on to criticize Sens. Begich and Murkowski — both of whom have taken time to question and learn about Shell’s arctic capabilities. Both have advanced Alaska’s offshore agenda because they are engaged, demand operational excellence, and understand the need to find new energy and create new jobs for Americans.

In short, they are credible.

Ms. Epstein, and organizations like hers, lack that credibility when they insinuate there could come a day when they would accept drilling in the Arctic. They will not. Not only have these groups litigated nearly every Shell permit, their reasoning for why Shell should not be allowed to proceed depends on the day. Recently, Ms. Epstein signed a letter that claims Shell should be denied Arctic air permits because emissions from our drilling rigs and oil spill response fleet will accelerate global warming. In a classic contradiction, Ms. Epstein appears to desire more oil spill response capability, but doesn’t want the engines on those vessels to actually be turned on. The truth is, Ms. Epstein’s goal is to stop Shell in the Arctic. Under no condition will she nor the environmental groups she associates with “be ready” to drill in the Arctic. Fortunately, we are.

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