Has Deepwater Put The Freeze On Arctic Exploration?

OB-IK159_oilsli_D_20100505221246.jpgOil company executives across the globe are doubtless counting their blessings that it was not an oil rig under their control that provoked the worst oil-spill environmental disaster since Exxon Valdez.  Much media focus has been given to whether BP CEO Tony Hayward is capable of mopping up the PR mess that the Deepwater spill presents, not to mention the numerous articles detailing the terrible economic and environmental toll the spill has taken on the people and the wildlife of Louisiana.

Clearly all involved in the energy industry are rattled by the events: today the head of the Duma committee for natural resources, nature management and environment, Yevgeny Tugolukov, proposed that a law be drawn up to prevent such disasters (though how exactly remains to be seen).


Much like the slick itself, trepidation about oil exploration inuntrodden territory (ie the much-coveted Arctic) is also rapidly spreading. Today’s Los Angeles Times has a report on environmentalists’ concerns about Shell’s planned tri-well Arctic engineering, and Reuters too has this to say:

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico may slow any “cold rush” to explore the Arctic, where companies would struggle to clean up spills in remote, icy seas, experts say.

Firms are eyeing opportunities to tap Arctic oil reserves made more accessible by climate change. But the disaster at a ruptured BP oil well has refocused attention on environmental risks.

“The blowout is pretty disastrous for anyone planning to start offshore operations in ecologically fragile areas,” said Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

“It was already going to be tough in the Arctic.”

Royal Dutch Shell, for instance, is facing pressure from conservationists at least to postpone 2010 drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska. They say it would be harder to deploy clean-up gear there than BP has managed in the Gulf of Mexico after last month’s explosion of Transocean Ltd’s Deepwater Horizon rig, which it had hired to drill the well.

In Norway, the spill is fuelling arguments against opening a region off Lofoten on the fringe of the Arctic, favored by firms including Statoil.

“This is a very strong reminder that we should move very slowly in the Arctic. There are much fewer people but oil remains much longer because of the colder water,” Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim said.

Arctic spills could hit indigenous peoples in remote societies dependent on wildlife from polar bears to seals, and under pressure from a retreat of sea ice in summer which has been blamed by a U.N. panel of scientists on global warming.