Climate Photo of the Week
Giant ocean drill rig, physical manifestation of Shell’s risky bid to resume Arctic oil drilling, arrives in Washington State on 5th anniversary of BP Gulf oil disaster
Five years after the Deepwater Horizon drill rig disaster and oil spill in the Gulf, Shell has brought high-stakes and controversial offshore oil drilling back into public attention with its plan to try again to drill in Arctic waters west of Alaska. In this year during which nations are pledging to cut fossil fuel and other emissions, Shell remains gigantically committed to extracting more petroleum from extreme locations.
The enormous physical form of Shell’s Arctic plans sailed into Port Angeles, Washington’s small harbor April 17, in the shape of the Polar Pioneer rig — three days before the anniversary of the explosion and fire on BP’s Deepwater Horizon. It is also little more than two years after Shell damaged its previous Alaska rig, the Kulluk, through documented mistakes in equipment, management and judgement. The Polar Pioneer rig is 400 feet wide and more than 300 feet high, about the same size as the Deepwater Horizon, and like that rig and many others uses underwater prop thrusters to float on position over a drilling site.
On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon floating oil rig drilling a well 50 miles SE of Venice, Louisiana, exploded, killing 11 workers, injuring 26 others and unleashing an estimated more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico from the broken wellhead a mile underwater, until it was capped in mid-July. The BP and government response to the damaged Delta landscape, jobs, wildlife and health has cost many billions of dollars and is still awaiting final financial charges to BP. The extent of damages is controversial scientifically and legally and is a long way from being known in full.
Interior Department records show that there has been an average of more than 850 reported offshore oil spill incidents a year from 2010 to 2014, all much smaller, but the number creates great concern about oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The most recent Environmental Impact Statement about Shell’s planned drilling off Alaska in the Chukchi Sea estimated a 75 percent chance of a 1000 barrel (42,000 gallons) or larger oil spill during the life of the drilling project — this in one of the richest wildlife and fish regions of the Arctic, most likely under ice, and far from the resources that were relatively easily accessible to fight the Gulf spill.
Despite this, Interior is moving ahead with the process toward final approval to Shell and the multinational corporation has committed to leasing the Polar Pioneer at a reported $620,000 a day. In the coming weeks the rig will be moved from atop the orange trans-ocean carrier ship it arrived on from Singapore and fitted out with some equipment in Port Angeles before a planned move to Terminal 5 in Seattle. Shell has said final preparations of this rig and another large drilling ship would take place in Seattle before they leave for the Bering Sea. The contract signed by the Port of Seattle with Shell is being contested in court, as are aspects of Shell’s proposal to Interior to be granted permits for the drilling. Shell’s Arctic support tug the Aiviq is already in Seattle.
Shell is also confronting protesters, having been granted a restraining order to keep Greenpeace from getting near the rigs, after 6 Greenpeace climbers boarded the Polar Pioneer in mid-Pacific for a few days. Concerned citizens, environmental and climate focused groups have planned Seattle harbor protests, including flotillas of kayaks. The lawsuits and protests are being driven not only by fears of oil spill damage to the Arctic, but also by the demonstrated need for fossil fuel exploration and use be curtailed to reduce greenhouse gases.
More on the Deepwater Horizon BP Gulf oil spill — and on Shell’s Arctic drilling — in coming posts.
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15 years of World View of Global Warming, documenting climate change 1999-2015
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