Obama Approves Shell to Drill in Antartica


The Obama administration just approved Shell Oil’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic, and even though it got its way, the company is still whining about “unwarranted restrictions” attached to this approval such as it can’t drill when winter ice is present. Shell is at the center of a classic Alaska development battle, gearing up to explore for oil as it confronts ever-higher regulatory hurdles and court challenges by environmentalists who say a big Arctic oil spill would be a disaster.

So far, Shell has spent nearly $4 billion on leases, groundwork and specialized equipment, including a new icebreaker being built in Louisiana. At stake are billions in oil income and the reputation of a corporation that promotes a culture of safety but has been tarnished by troubles overseas. In a sense, Shell is an old Alaska hand. Back in the 1960s, the company was the first to produce oil in Cook Inlet waters, where it had to engineer platforms able to withstand harsh winters and severe tides. Some of those platforms still produce today. But Shell sold those interests in the late 1990s, after their heyday.

Drilling for oil is challenging even under “normal” circumstances, so it’s pretty much inevitable that in the extreme conditions presented by the Arctic, some of this stuff is going to escape, and there might even be a catastrophic spill. What’s that going to look like? It might look a little like Russia. Russia’s constant oil leaks are already contaminating the Arctic, wiping out entire ecosystems and all of the fishing and hunting upon which many remote villages rely. And Russia is aiming to follow Shell into Arctic waters, which could compound the disaster — Russian company Lukoil’s safety record makes Shell look like Greenpeace. Meanwhile, the oil response “plans” put forward by most drilling outfits are “triumphs of hope over expectation,” because “Arctic ice, lack of daylight, winds and temperatures make it extremely difficult to contain, burn off or disperse spilled oil.” Sure, the Arctic may currently look like a freezing desert wasteland that can afford to get a little more ghastly. But once climate change really kicks in, it’s gonna be expensive beachfront resort property. So it’s in even rich people’s interest to keep it pristine.

via Grist