Shell Already Forced to Stop Arctic Drilling Operation

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Over the weekend, Shell commenced drilling the first exploratory oil well in the Arctic in twenty years. It was the fruit of a multibillion dollar lobbying campaign that Shell had orchestrated over the course of six years.

It was to be a triumphant day for both the oil giant and the industry at large—evidenced by this video the company released on YouTube:

But the good times were over nearly as soon as they began. Complications involving the drift arctic sea ice—precisely the sort of complications that makes such an operation so treacherous in the first place, and so opposed by environmentalists and local residents—forced the operation to cease mere hours after it had gotten underway.

Here's the New York Times:

Just a day after it began drilling its first well in the Arctic Ocean, Shell has been forced to temporarily abandon the work because of sea ice moving into the area. The delay was the latest setback for Shell, which has invested six years and more than $4 billion to win the right to drill for oil and natural gas in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the North Slope of Alaska.

Early Sunday morning, Shell’s Noble Discoverer drill ship sank a bit into the Burger Prospect, about 70 miles off the Alaska coast, the beginning of a 1,400-foot pilot hole that will form the basis for a mile-deep exploration well.

But late Monday the company announced that it was pulling the floating drill rig’s multiple anchors and moving it off the well because of encroaching sea ice.

The event demonstrates how much trickier—and disaster-prone—drilling in the Arctic is than other regions. At least it's not deepwater: the well here is only 200 feet underwater, compared to the 3,000 or so feet of the Deepwater Horizon.

But take note of this. We're getting up to the minute reports right now, because all eyes are on this risky operation. The news cycle will move on, the drill bit will descend again, and then another, and then another. And all the while there will be encroaching sea ice and freezing storms and human errors and failure-prone equipment. Shell, ostensibly has its top notch instruments working overtime and its satellite forecasting away—if it can't even drop its exploratory drill for more than a few hours without having to abandon ship, it bears an ill omen for the operation at large.

Tags: Arctic | Oil