Shell Gets Go-Ahead to Drill Alaskan Coastline

Shell Gets Go-Ahead to Drill Alaskan CoastlineAny talk about offshore drilling prompts a strong response. Those in favor of tapping this natural resource using offshore platforms rightly say that the industry creates thousands of jobs and fills a necessary economic need. Those opposed, meanwhile, have valid concerns about the safety of drilling rigs and pipes used to move tons of crude on a daily basis.

The debate is especially heated when it comes to Alaska’s northwestern coast, home to both Alaska Natives and a number of endangered animal species. According to Komo News, however, Shell has just crossed a major administrative milestone with approval from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to conduct a multi-year exploration plan in the Chukchi Sea. Does this mean going offshore in Alaska is now a foregone conclusion?

Careful Consideration

The BOEM says that they’ve “taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region.” Shell spokesman Curtis Smith calls the approval “an important milestone,” but says there’s still a great deal of work to be done and that his company will “continue to test and prepare our contractors, assets and contingency plans against the high bar stakeholders and regulators expect of an Arctic operator.”

It’s not a done deal yet, however—Shell also needs permits from both state and federal agencies along with a new land-use permit for Terminal 5 of the Port of Seattle, where the company’s fleet would harbor six months a year. Along with regulatory hurdles, the driller also faces push back from local environmental groups which have already planned a “festival of resistance” designed to impede the movement of Shell’s ships and decry their proposed plans.

Shared Concerns

In California, meanwhile, the county of Santa Barbara has voted to support a new bill which would ban new offshore projects in the state altogether. All other pieces of California’s coastline already enjoy this protection and after a spill last month that saw 100,000 gallons of crude dumped into the ocean, Santa Barbara is finally ready to get on board. This is the fear of Alaskan dissenters—that even with the proper permits, accidents can cause significant damage to local ecosystems.

Shell’s best bet? To focus on safety, security, and maintenance and communicate to the public that these are its top priorities. With many offshore rigs effectively self-contained, it’s easy for small issues of cleanliness or wear and tear to quickly escalate into big problems, resulting in sudden emergencies and PR nightmares. By making high performance of systems such as heat exchange and HVAC non-negotiable, Shell and other drilling companies can demonstrate to lawmakers that they’re willing do put in the time and show dissenters that they’re willing to do the work.

Alaskan coastal drilling may become reality in the next few years; companies that want to reap the rewards must be prepared to take on the task of responsible and rigorous maintenance.

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