Ahead Of Alaska Drilling, Shell Practices Cleaning Up

Publication: NPR

Author: Richard Harris


07/01/2012 - Royal Dutch Shell could drill several exploratory oil wells into the waters off the north shore of Alaska this summer. The potential prize is huge, but so is the risk, should there be an oil spill in this pristine and remote region. And that risk is on everyone's mind since the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.

Shell is now training hundreds of workers to confront oil in icy waters. But for now, the training is taking place in the calm, ice-free waters far to the south, near the port of Valdez.

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"It's pretty abysmal," says retired Coast Guard Vice Adm. Roger Rufe. "I don't think anybody's really proven they can clean up a spill very effectively in the ice."

Spill response is a last resort, of course. The hope is that Shell will never have a blowout, or if it does lose control of a well, that a device called a blowout preventer will actually work, unlike what happened at the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico. If that fails as well, Shell is bringing along a device that's designed to cap a runaway well.

"I think the chances of being able to get a cap on something more quickly than what happened in the Gulf is probably much better now than it was then," Rufe said at a meeting in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Pew Environment Group. "But once oil is in the water, it's a mess. And we've never proven anywhere in the world — let alone in the ice — that we're very good at picking up more than 3 or 5 or 10 percent of the oil once it's in the water."

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Read the full article, Ahead Of Alaska Drilling, Shell Practices Cleaning Up, on the NPR website.

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