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Shell Oil Rigs — The First to Explore the Arctic Ocean in Decades — Delayed by Sea Ice

By Dan Fiorucci Channel 2 News5:45 p.m. AKDT, June 3, 2012

Seattle, Washington—
The Vice President of Shell Oil in Alaska today told Governor Sean Parnell (R-Alaska) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that heavy sea ice in the Bering Straight will delay historic drilling operations — scheduled for this summer. 

Those operations will encompass the first exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean — off of Alaska’s Coast — in 20 years. (In 2003, there was some exploratory drilling on what are called “Gravel Islands” off of Alaska’s Coast, but those operations are not comparable in scale to this one.

That word came as Parnell and Murkowski toured two massive drilling rings, The Kulluk and “Noble Discoverer”.

They will spend the short summer drilling season searching for what are believed to be massive oil deposits in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

In fact, if estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey are correct then, within the next 20 years, offshore drilling could start filling the Trans Alaska Pipeline with up to a million additional barrels of oil a day.

In addition, it would require the state to build a massive, 400 mile pipeline across Northwest Alaska, in order to hook-up with TAPS.

Pipeline construction would provide thousands of jobs in the state. It would also mean that oil fields in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve could be developed — bringing an era rivaling the 1970’s and 80’s in terms of oil riches.

All of the potential development worries environmental groups such as “Greenpeace“.

Tonight the organization has a scientific vessel “Esperanza” anchored just a mile or so from the 2 Shell drilling rigs in the Port of Seattle.

The “Esperanza” will shadow the rigs as they enter the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas later this summer. ;

They have on board two, manned scientific submarines.

Those vessels will look for “Scour” marks on the ocean floor. Greenpeace fears that bobbing icebergs could damage the Shell wellhead at depths of up to 150 feet.

But Shell says it’s studied the scouring problem, and has deliberately located its well head inside a trench, and in an area unlikely to suffer from such scouring.

Greenpeace will also placed manned zodiacs into the water — with acoustical microphones — to measure the “noise footprint” of the drilling platforms.

Greenpeace is concerned that the sounds of drilling equipment will interfere with Narwhal and Gray Whale migrations.

But Shell says it’s spent tens of millions of dollars on acoustical studies. The company contends those studies demonstrate that the effects of noise from oil operations on marine life are minimal.

Whatever the case, for the first time in a generation, exploratory drilling is set to resume in America’s Arctic.

Shell says a catastrophic oil spill — like the one BP suffered in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 — is unlikely. Shell also says that if there is a spill, it’s Blowout Preventers are ready to cap it, and it’s clean-up vessels are on-station ready to contain it.

Environmental groups — and natives who depend on the Arctic Waters for subsistence hunting and fishing — hope that Shell is right.

Copyright © 2012, KTUU-TV


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