NPR News visited Dutch Harbor recently for a look at the equipment that Shell Oil is hoping to send into the Beaufort Sea next summer for drilling of its first exploratory well there. Among the vessels is the 300-foot oil skimmer Nanuq -- "a wonderful vessel," says a Shell spokesman -- but environmentalists and some Arctic Alaska villagers say too little is known about Arctic Ocean wildlife and the effects of a spill to risk drilling now.
Shell officials hope to demonstrate that the company is prepared to drill responsibly and it's ready to clean up an oil spill if something goes wrong. ...
Shell has a good safety record, but the Deepwater Horizon memory is still fresh, and environmental groups oppose the company's drilling plan.
"Our position is that right now we are not ready to drill in the Arctic Ocean," says Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society.
Epstein says more scientific research needs to be done in the Arctic before companies should be allowed to drill there.
Federal regulators say that if they approve the drilling, oversight will be intense.
"We don't have a lot of activity in the Arctic," says [Michael] Bromwich [director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the country's top offshore drilling regulator]. "And so we are able to, even with limited manpower, make sure that we will be providing 24/7 regulatory oversight over the drilling of this well if we make the decision to approve the application."
Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline in Anchorage wants the federal government to clear up once and for all the question of whether, as claimed by the state of Alaska, the feds have placed a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic. Read more on that dispute at Alaska Dispatch.