It all sounds so simple: Arctic sea ice is retreating, so let's get over there and start some off-shore drilling! Unfortunately the Arctic isn't a friendly place, not to humans and not to oil executives.
Commenter Lodger links to this ominous news article about the Kulluk, "a $290 million offshore oil rig operated as part of Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts in summer", that has washed up at Ocean Bay on Sitkalidak Island, close to Kodiak Island's southeast shores.
All of it is worth a read, but here's the most interesting bit:
It's been a tumultuous several days for the Kulluk, which saw itself disconnected from the tug boats charged with moving the vessel from Alaska to the Lower 48 for the winter. Earlier this year, the Kulluk performed exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea for Shell.
For Shell, which has invested more than $4.5 billion to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic, the latest troubles raise questions about how prepared the company -- as well as the Coast Guard -- are for problems in the far north.
The Kulluk and its tug weren't operating above the Arctic Circle when the problems started late last week. And the Coast Guard's Alaska headquarters at Kodiak are located relatively nearby the grounded Kulluk, making response efforts easier than in the Arctic, where the agency has no base. That has some Alaskans wondering what would happen if similar troubles ever occur in the much more remote and hostile Arctic Ocean.
"The implications of this very troubling incident are clear -- Shell and its contractors are no match for Alaska’s weather and sea conditions either during drilling operations or during transit," said Lois Epstein, the Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, late Monday in a statement. "Shell’s costly drilling experiment in the Arctic Ocean needs to be stopped by the federal government or by Shell itself, given the unacceptably high risks it poses to both humans and the environment."
The tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk while a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter lifts off from the Kulluk with a crew member aboard Saturday. The Royal Dutch Shell rig ran aground Monday, after days of problems with its towing journey in the Alaskan Gulf (source: Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis/U.S. Coast Guard, via NPR).
This is happening as we speak. The oil rig is grounded in "rocky" Ocean Bay, with 150,000 gallons of diesel, oil, and hydraulic fluid on board, with the following not-so-reassuring weather forecast: