USCG not ready for arctic oil spill

July 28, 2011 at 6:06 AM

WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Coast Guard needs to assess its abilities in arctic waters despite energy sector confidence about its ability to respond to a spill, an official said.

Melting sea ice brought on in part by global climate change is exposing vast areas believed to hold oil and natural gas. Major oil companies are seeking permits to drill exploratory wells in arctic waters. Those companies include Royal Dutch Shell, which is lobbying for permits in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a June statement she was pushing "aggressively" to remove federal roadblocks to development in the seas.

Peter Slaiby, vice president as Alaskan operations at Shell, said during testimony before a Senate committee on commerce that his company understood the risks of work in the arctic.

"The bar is high in the arctic and it should be. Shell fully understands and supports this," he said. "We are ready to proceed with an exploration program that does precisely that."

U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp in his testimony, however, said his agency was starting from "ground zero" in terms of response capabilities in arctic waters.

"Although private industry may assert they are adequately prepared for a response to a spill, we must determine what response capability our Coast Guard and nation needs to have so we can mount an adequate response as exploration advances towards production," he said.

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