Shell shuts down Arctic drilling program

Regulatory hurdles cited as part of the reason for decision


Shell Oil is giving up on drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell Oil's Arctic drill rig, Kulluk, stranded near Kodiak Island, Alaska

One of Shell’s Arctic mishaps came in 2012, when a drilling rig escaped its tow ships and ran aground. Photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

By Bob Berwyn

Shell Oil’s hotly contested Arctic oil-drilling operation will shut down for the foreseeable future, the multinational fossil fuel company announced today, drawing sighs of relief from environmental advocates who had described the exploration efforts in apocalyptic terms.

The company’s efforts have been stop-and-go for a long time. In 2013, for example, Shell announced a temporary pause in the program after a string of incidents, including failed tests of oil spill containment gear, runaway ships and notices for violations of environmental regulations. Continue reading

Shell gets federal greenlight for exploratory Arctic drilling


Shell gets OK for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Sea.

Conditional permits limit operations and set protections for marine mammals

Staff Report

FRISCO — Shell’s Arctic drill plans got a green light from federal regulators today, as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued a pair of conditions permits for limited exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska.

The permits limit Shell to drilling in the top sections of wells. The company won’t be allowed to probe deep in into the oil-bearing zones until well-capping equipment is on hand and deployable within 24 hours — which still leaves enough time for thousands of gallons of crude to leak into the sensitive and pristine Arctic Ocean. Continue reading

Climate: Ocean acidification could reach critical level in key Alaska fishing grounds before mid-century


Pteropods swimming in the Scotia Sea, where scientists have also tracked the impacts of ocean acidification. Photo courtesy British Antarctic Survey.

Impacts likely to ripple through ocean ecosystem

Staff Report

FRISCO — Parts of the Arctic Ocean are acidifying so fast that some marine species may see their ability to build and maintain shells threatened as early as 2030, according to new research by NOAA, the University of Alaska, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The study, published in the journal Oceanography, shows that surface waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas could reach a critical level of acidity within 15 years, with the Bering Sea reaching the threshold by 2044. Continue reading

Environment: Feds eye new Arctic drilling rules


Feds are seeking public comment on new rules for Arctic Sea drilling.

Major spill would devastate Arctic ecosystems

Staff Report

FRISCO — Proposed new Arctic drilling rules would require fossil fuel companies to have a spare drilling rig available in case they lose control of the primary well. The new rule is aimed at ensuring that companies operating in the Arctic are full prepared for the region’s extreme conditions.

As released in late February, the rules  focus solely on offshore exploration drilling operations within the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea Planning Areas. The proposed rule is open for public comment through mid-April. Comment HERE. Continue reading

Environment: Federal appeals court nixes fossil fuel lease sales in Chukchi Sea

Shell Oil has been permitted to start preparatory drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

A federal court this week ruled that the Bureau of Energy Management violated environmental laws when it sold leases for fossil fuel production in the Chukchi Sea.

Judges say feds made ‘arbitrary and capricious’ decision on how much oil can be extracted

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — There’s no question that there is a lot of oil beneath the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, and the Chukchi Sea, specifically.

But exactly how much is a question that is still open to debate, according to a federal court, which this week ruled that the U.S. Department of Interior made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision when it sold drilling rights in the area back in 2008 based on an estimate of about 1 billion barrels of oil.

Federal officials may have pulled that number out of a hat, the three-hudge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, ordering the federal government to revise the environmental study for the 2008 lease sale. The court also said federal officials may have low-balled potential environmental impacts of fossil fuel development in the Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

Arctic sea ice rebounds in October, but stays well below average

October Arctic sea ice has been declining at a rate of about 7.1 percent per decade during the satellite era.

Warm air temps due to open water inhibits ice growth in some areas

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Arctic sea ice expanded quickly in October, with coverage doubling from the record low level of mid-September. But because the ice dwindled to an all-time low level this summer, even the record rebound in October couldn’t boost the ice extent back into the average range, according to the latest update from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The average ice extent for October was 2.7 million square miles, the second lowest in the satellite record and about 89,000 square miles above the 2007 record low for October. The ice extent is about 884,000 square miles below the 1979 to 2000 average. Continue reading

Shell delays Arctic oil drilling

Shell delays Arctic oil drilling.

Critical containment gear damaged in final tests as drilling deadline looms

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After a whirlwind summer of drilling, melting sea ice and failed safety tests, Shell Oil has backed of plans to tap into oil beneath the Chukchi Sea, at least for this year.

In a final setback, the company’s containment equipment was damaged, resulting in another delay that brought Shell too close to the Sept. 24 deadline for oil drilling.

“It is clear that some days will be required to repair and fully assess dome readiness. We are disappointed that the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards; but, as we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely,” Shell said in a statement, adding that it plans to continue preparatory drilling. Continue reading


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