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Originally published December 17, 2013 at 4:41 PM | Page modified December 17, 2013 at 4:43 PM

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Editorial: A cold, hard look needed for Shell’s Arctic drilling plans

An agency of the federal Department of the Interior needs more details about Shell’s plans before another try at oil exploration in Alaska.


Seattle Times Editorial

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DAYS after Shell Oil turned in revised proposals for oil exploration in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management responded with 10 pages of questions to answer.

Good. Skepticism by this Department of the Interior agency is the least to be expected after Shell’s troubled launch of Alaska oil exploration and drilling plans in 2012 in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Trouble with oil rigs and a new tug caused Shell to punt on the 2013 season, and now it is back asking to try again in 2014 in the Chukchi Sea, between Siberia and the top of Alaska, west of Barrow.

The bureau wants to know if Shell has addressed and corrected issues of noncompliance cited by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency. The information was missing from a November filing by Shell.

For an industry that failed to manage conditions in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, with BP’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, there is no margin for error in Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf.

The bureau describes the conditions as extreme cold, freezing spray, snow, extended periods of low light, strong winds, dense fog, sea ice, strong currents and dangerous sea states.

Safety and environmental hazards loom large in such conditions and complicate the ability of others to respond in emergencies.

In a letter Thursday, six U.S. senators asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to delay future oil and gas lease sales and permitting in the Arctic Ocean “until a thorough re-evaluation of the environmental and safety risks associated with Arctic drilling activities can be completed.”

Proceeding cautiously, and seeking credible explanations and assurances of remedial changes, must come before any Department of Interior consideration of new drilling plans.

In 2012, no oil had been spilled and no one was injured or any lives lost. Future drilling plans cannot be built on assumptions based on past good fortune.



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