Environmental groups concerned about the potential damage to the Arctic environment suffered another blow after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted a temporary air permit for Shell to work off the coast of Alaska.
The company has already asked federal regulators to extend the drilling season in the Chuckchi Sea because its feels ice would remain at bay into late fall. Groups like Greenpeace have staged high-profile demonstrations in an effort to highlight their growing concern about the industry’s move toward arctic waters. With millions of barrels of oil potentially lying beneath the ice, environmentalists may lose out to national energy security interests.
Actress Lucy Lawless in February was arrested after her and six other Greenpeace activists scaled the 174-foot drilling tower of the Noble Discovery drillship as it sat in a New Zealand port. Groups like hers have expressed concern that an event like the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 would cause irreversible harm to the pristine arctic environment. Nearly six months to the date, however, the drillship left its port in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, unimpeded on its way to the frigid waters of the Chuckchi Sea.
Shell spent more than $4.5 billion on its program in Alaska, dolling out some $2.1 billion in 2008 to acquire the licenses to operate in the Chuckchi Sea, an expanse situated between Alaska and the eastern frontier of Russia. The company states that its oil-spill response capability in the region is “unprecedented” and unique to the industry. “No other company” has the onsite response systems in place that Shell does, it says. In terms of its track record, the company states that during the 10-year period ending in 2006, only around 2 barrels out of 73 million barrels were spilled during operations in nearby Sakhalin Island.