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Report for Congress renews concerns over Arctic Alaska oil drilling

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published April 2, 2012

Shell Oil Co. continues to enjoy support from a broad, bipartisan menagerie of state and federal lawmakers, Obama administration regulators and pro-industry supporters for its oil and gas exploration plans this summer in Arctic Alaska. But a new report from the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, questions whether the supermajor is truly prepared for a potential disaster in the slushy, ice-choked waters of the Chukchi and Bering seas.

The GAO report, released March 30 by the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, echoes many concerns raised by a coalition of environmentalists and some Alaska Native villages along the Northwest coast: remoteness of proposed exploration coupled with the Arctic's sensitive ecosystem could doom efforts to contain an oil spill.

The report is a wealth of information on how subsea oil and gas exploration has advanced in wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The GAO credits industry on this point while acknowledging that most U.S. offshore oil and gas exploration occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, where support can be readily deployed.

Even with extraordinary spill contingency plans Shell has developed for the Arctic, "there are few additional resources available in the region to respond in the event that Shell's capabilities are insufficient," the report concludes.

Shell has cleared several hurdles toward its objective of Arctic drilling this summer, and has decisively won in the court of public opinion. But Shell still hasn't gotten the critical green-light – in form of drilling permits – from the U.S. Interior Department.