04/20/2011 - The debate over drilling in the icy Arctic waters off the Alaskan coast has been caught in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Yet the practical differences between the two scenarios are stark.
The response to a spill in the Arctic “is a very different reality” from the Gulf, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at a news conference Monday. “It also has a set of very difficult conditions for oil and gas development.”
On the one hand, wells dug in shallow Arctic waters would probably experience maybe a third of the pressure that was evident before BP’s Macondo well ruptured April 20 in the Gulf. The Arctic wells would be dug in waters perhaps hundreds of feet deep, as opposed to the 5,000-foot-deep Macondo well.
But the federal government is also less able to respond to an Arctic spill.
“I remain concerned about the lack of Coast Guard capability up there,” said Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard commandant who led the Obama administration’s Gulf spill response last year.
“It’s remote, it’s extreme and it’s fragile,” said Marilyn Heiman, director of Arctic and offshore energy at the Pew Environment Group. “There’s so many conditions that they have to factor in, and I think that is where we would like to see more testing, more drilling, more assurances that that equipment will work.”
Read the article ‘Extreme’ Climate, Spill Questions Bedevil Arctic Drilling Plans in full on The Politico's Web site (subscription required).
The Pew Environment Group’s offshore energy reform work is now a part of Pew’s Arctic Ocean Program.