BP pursues Beaufort Sea drilling that critics call risky

BP photo via AP

BP's Liberty project in Alaska's North Slope oil fields is exempt from the Obama administration's suspension of Arctic offshore drilling, even though it's about 3 miles off the Beaufort Sea coastline. That's because the drilling rig will sit on an artificial island linked to the mainland by a causeway. The New York Times, quoting unnamed federal scientists, says BP essentially wrote its own environmental assessment for the project, taking advantage of lax oversight by the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

"The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre," one of the federal scientists said.

The scientists and other critics say they are worried about a replay of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because the Liberty project involves a method of drilling called extended reach that experts say is more prone to the types of gas kicks that triggered the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon.

Oil companies build islands in shallow water in part to prevent ice floes from damaging rigs, and in part to contain crude in the event of a spill. But critics say the islands, and their incorporated berms, could quickly be overwhelmed by a well blowout, spilling oil onto the ice or into the sea.

Alaska Dispatch correspondent Craig Medred takes issue with the tone of the Times piece here and with MSNBC coverage of Liberty here, saying the reports are "alarmist" and filled with "half-truths."