Arctic oil can wait, advocacy group says

Federal government offers new proposals for safe arctic oil and gas exploration.

By Daniel J. Graeber

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- If there is oil locked under arctic waters, it can wait until U.S. policymakers and the industry have effective safeguards in place, an advocacy group said.

The Interior Department last week unveiled seven proposals meant to enhance regulations governing oil and gas operations on the arctic shelf of the United States. The new rules would require companies to adopt oil spill response plans suitable for the arctic environment and have the ability to drill a relief well in the event of a catastrophe like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, among others.


The government said the proposals follow an examination of arctic operations carried out by Dutch energy company Shell off the coast of Alaska in 2012.

Michael LeVine, a senior counsel for advocacy group Oceana, said in response to email questions the federal government should start over with arctic energy regulations.

"Good choices about whether to allow these activities and, if so, under what conditions require more careful planning and attention than Shell or our government have given them," he said Sunday. "There is no rush. If there is oil under the Arctic Ocean, it will wait for companies to show they can operate safely and respond to a spill."


Shell's preliminary drilling campaign in the arctic waters off the Alaskan coast was plagued by problems, including a grounded drilling rig, violations of air pollution limits, engine failures on a tow ship and an oil spill containment system damaged during testing.

The Interior Department said the proposal would further that nation's interest in exploring frontier waters. A comprehensive set of regulations would "institutionalize a proactive approach to offshore safety," the proposal reads.

Erik Milito, director of upstream programs for the American Petroleum Institute, said the new proposals are redundant, unnecessary and burdensome for the industry.

"We are reviewing these rules to ensure they offer a realistic path for energy production in the arctic," he said. "Failure to develop these resources would put America's global energy leadership at risk at a time when Russia and other arctic nations are forging ahead."

Russian energy company Gazprom Neft last week announced it made its maiden winter shipment of oil from a field located above the Arctic Circle. The company said more than 360,000 barrels of oil will be shipped from the region during a winter period ending in May.

API, which represents the business interest of the oil and gas industry, said the technology is already in place to protect the pristine arctic environment.


In Montana, responders are standing by while they wait for icy conditions on the Yellowstone River to improve. A pipeline breach in January spilled about 1,000 barrels into the river.

Oceana said that development is indicative of the problems with oil spill response in icy conditions.

"Even small amounts of ice will make response impossible," LeVine said.

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