(MintPress) – Representatives from Royal Dutch Shell announced an end to oil drilling in the Arctic for 2013 following repeated problems with oil rigs and safety equipment. The decision was celebrated by the more than 2.7 million people who petitioned the Obama administration to protect the pristine Alaskan Arctic environment and to permanently end Shell’s $4.5 billion investment in risky offshore oil drilling. This drilling issue has occurred during this week’s BP Gulf oil disaster court hearing, a factor that may have contributed to Shell’s decision.
Greenpeace, an international environmental advocacy organization spearheading public opposition to the project, applauded Shell’s decision this week: “This is the first thing Shell’s done right in Alaska – calling it quits. Shell was supposed to be the best of the best, but the long list of mishaps and near-disasters is a clear indication even the ‘best’ companies can’t succeed in Arctic drilling,” said Phil Radford, executive director for Greenpeace USA.
Damages to Shell oil rigs and unresolved safety issues include structural problems with firefighting capabilities. This delayed drilling for the spring and summer months of 2013, the narrow window of time before harsh winter weather would prevent drilling from taking place.
Shell executives vowed to push forward with drilling in 2014 though: “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people,” said Marvin E. Odum, president of Shell Oil Company.
Shell’s original Alaskan plan
Shell announced plans in early 2011 to drill two wells about 20 miles off the coast of Beaufort, a region in northern Alaska. The oil company also claimed to be developing three wells about 70 miles off the coast of the Chukchi region in northwestern Alaska.
Major flaws with Shell equipment and near-disastrous rig accidents have increased public opposition to Alaskan drilling, especially among environmental groups.
The problems began July 2012 when the U.S. Coast Guard found several structural problems with Shell’s specially equipped oil-spill barge during an inspection in Bellingham, Wash. Coast Guard Commander Christopher O’Neil reported that there were numerous problems with the “structural fire-fighting capabilities, electrical system and some of the welds,” on Shell spill prevention equipment.
These glaring problems did not stop Shell from moving oil rigs into the proposed drill zones as it forged ahead haphazardly with drilling preparations.
This culminated Dec. 31, 2012 after a Kulluk drilling rig crashed into the uninhabited Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska following stormy weather. The rig broke loose from tugboats that had been pulling it to Seattle for the winter.
None of the 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel onboard leaked, but more than 730 people, a dozen ships and several helicopters were involved in the operation to ensure that the rig would be towed safely for repairs.
The Kulluk had been drilling exploratory wells in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the broader $4.6 billion drilling project in the Alaska.
Representatives from Greenpeace and other environmental groups contend that there is no safe method for drilling in the Alaskan Arctic, a project that would give the U.S. a maximum of 90 billion barrels of oil based upon geological estimates. Based upon current consumption patterns, the oil would be consumed in just three years time.
Recent oil spills have shown that multinational oil corporations are incapable of maintaining safe operating procedures.
Previous oil disasters
The BP oil spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico lead to the deaths of 11 workers after an offshore oil rig exploded, spewing approximately 210 million gallons across the sea floor. Authorities tried to cap the underwater rig but failed to stop the flowing oil for 87 days.
The lingering effects of the spill can still be felt today as communities along the Gulf continue to recover from one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. A federal civil trial examining the disaster opened Tuesday with testimony from noted forensic engineers decrying BP’s lack of safety regulations and dangerous cost-cutting methods leading up to the disaster.
“There is ample evidence of intense pressure within the system to save time and money,” Bob Bea, co-founder of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at the University of California-Berkeley, said on Tuesday.
He added that BP cut its Gulf of Mexico costs by 22 percent from 2008 to 2009 while increasing oil and gas output by 55 percent.
Many living in Alaska also remember the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, an oil tanker spill that spread 10-32 million gallons of crude oil across Prince William Sound. Following one of the worst oil disasters at the time, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act in 1990 requiring the Coast Guard to strengthen its regulations on oil tank vessels and oil tank owners and operators.