What does the ongoing North Sea oil spill say about Shell's plans to open up the Arctic, where an accident would be all but impossible to clean up? Especially now the existence of a suspected second leak at its Gannett Alpha platform has been revealed?
Personally, it seems to me that if Shell can't get it right in the supposedly 'ultra-safe' North Sea then there's no reason to think they'd be able to manage it in the freezing Beaufort Sea. As Shell continues with plans to drill in the Arctic waters off Alaska next year, these are precisely the sort of questions it must answer.
By a quirk of fate this week people have the opportunity to do just that - by taking part in the company's "Developing Arctic resources safely and responsibly" web chat on Thursday 18 August.
I'm sure it will be make enlightening listening and we want as many people to get involved as possible. You can register to take part in the session.
This is a 'unique' opportunity to ask Shell directly how it will operate safely in the frozen north and there are a few more questions we think need answering:
- BP needed 6,500 ships and 50,000 people to plug the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico, and it cost them over £20bn. Given that dealing with an Arctic spill would be even more challenging, can Shell confirm it will have similar resources on stand-by in Alaska should it drill in the Arctic?
- Shell has claimed it has a fully functioning, state-of-the-art oil spill response system in place for Alaska. Can the company confirm that these plans have been tested successfully during the Arctic autumn and winter months?
- Canadian regulators found that drilling a relief well in the Beaufort could take up to two years because of the impossibility of drilling during the harsh winter. Is this an assessment Shell agrees with?
- Before Deepwater Horizon, did Shell lobby the Canadian government to relax safety regulations that required relief wells to be drilled at the same time as the main well, so as to prevent an uncontrollable blowout?
- Oil industry spill plans for the Arctic have been described as "thoroughly inadequate" and based on "imagineering not engineering", while the US Coastguard has admitted that "we have extremely limited Arctic response capabilities". Given this, what proof is there that Shell has "a proven record of meeting the challenges of drilling under extreme Arctic conditions"?
- Shell has received a lot of criticism for its lack of openness in dealing with the recent North Sea spill. Why should people believe anything it says about being prepared to deal with an accident in the Arctic?
- The US government claimed that there is a one-in-five chance of a spill of more than 1,000 barrels over the lifetime of just one drilling block in the Beaufort Sea. Does Shell think this is an acceptable risk, given the pristine nature of the Alaskan environment?
- Even if the US Geological Survey's estimates are correct and the Arctic does hold 90 billion barrels of oil, this would only provide three year's worth of global supply. Is risking the Arctic for a three-year hit acceptable?
We'll try to put these questions to Shell on the 18th. And hopefully you can join us.
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