Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, told a Senate Oceans Subcommittee hearing in Anchorage this past week that increased shipping through the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean are a greater threat to marine environment than oil and gas drilling.
Begich chairs the subcommittee, which heard testimony before a packed audience at the University of Alaska Anchorage from a cross section of panelists, including representatives of Shell Oil, the Interior Department and US Coast Guard.
Begich said he was holding the hearing to hear about Arctic shipping safety and lessons learned from the 2012 offshore drilling season, which resulted in issues for Shell Oil still under investigation by federal authorities.
“Reviewing Shell’s maritime activities and the government’s oversight of these operations is the next logical step in responsible development and preparation for increased Arctic activities,” he said.
The senator said the incident of the grounding of Shell’s drill rig Kulluk off of Kodiak Island was a high profile example of challenges posed to marine transport in the Arctic. He noted that in 2012, there were more than 250 vessels operating in the Arctic Ocean and more than 480 transits through the Bering Strait. “This, of course,” is due to declining Arctic sea ice which allows increased access for longer periods,” he said. “I’ve always said we face greater risks from the increasing traffic we’re seeing along Russia’s Northern Sea Route and later through Canada’s Northwest Passage than we do from oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.”
Shell’s Pete Slaiby, vice president for exploration, said his company has a corporate desire to do things right, but as incidents involving two Shell rigs are the subject of an ongoing government review, he would not discuss them.