How should Arctic offshore drilling be regulated?
October 17, 2013
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
Getting oil from the ground to your car isn’t an easy undertaking, especially if a company is planning on extracting it from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. The bitter cold, crushing waves, thick sea ice, devastating icebergs and remoteness are all challenges that oil companies must overcome.
A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts outlines the challenges when companies try to extract oil from the top of the world, and calls on federal regulators to impose baseline standards on companies before they can drill in the Arctic Ocean.
“Pew is not opposed to offshore drilling, but a balance must be achieved between responsible energy development and protection of the environment… In the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, the United States and other Arctic countries began to examine whether regulatory standards were sufficient to prevent a similar disaster in the Arctic,” the study says. Its recommendations include:
Vessels, drilling rigs, and facilities should be built to withstand maximum ice forces and sea states that may be encountered.
- Equipment needed to control a spill, such as relief rigs and well-control containment systems, should be designed for and located in Alaska’s Arctic so they can be readily deployed.
Spill response equipment should be located in Alaska’s Arctic and be sufficiently robust to remove oil caught in ice-infested waters and trapped under ice.
The Interior Department, an executive branch agency that oversees the management of U.S. natural resources, is drafting standards that oil and gas companies must comply with to conduct offshore drilling north of Alaska. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said regulators will release the standards by the end of the year and open the Arctic Ocean to drilling in 2015.
Currently, regulations make no distinction in dealing with the special challenges that the Arctic presents. Most offshore oil equipment is designed for temperate conditions like in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department’s plan to release new regulations suggests that it will acknowledge the drastic differences in conditions between the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
As an executive agency, the Interior Department does not need congressional approval of new regulations, although Congress does have the power to defund or to eliminate an executive department through legislation.
Oil companies, for the most part, are against regulation. They cite the voluntary standards that Shell Oil implemented after its inaugural Arctic drilling season in 2012 faced significant challenges and problems, including small leaks and a drilling ship catching fire.
Advocates for Arctic drilling argue that regulation will only slow exploration and extraction and that the industry, not the government, should draft safety regulations sine they know the environment, the logistics, and the challenges.
What do you think?
Who should be responsible for writing regulations for Arctic drilling? Who should the Interior Department consult when drafting regulations? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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