Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pew Proposes Improved Standards for Offshore Drilling in the Arctic

A global research and public policy group is offering the Interior Department recommendations for world-class Arctic standards for oil and gas exploration, development and production.

Pew Charitable Trusts, the sole beneficiary of trusts established by the children of the founder of Sun Oil Company, made its recommendations in a 142-page document released on Sept. 23. The complete document – Arctic Standards: Recommendations on Oil Spill Prevention, Response and Safety, is online at
External reviewers of the document included Roy Robertson, project manager/preparedness monitor for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, which was established in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Among the recommendations is a call for vessels, drilling rigs and facilities to be built to withstand maximum ice forces and sea states that may be encountered. Another calls for equipment needed to control spills, such as relief rigs and well-control containment systems, to be designed for and located in Alaska’s Arctic, for ready deployment.

An oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would have a profoundly adverse impact on one of the world’s last relatively untouched marine ecosystems, the report said. The adverse conditions would impact multiple marine mammal species, migratory birds and more.

“We’ve been asking for long term comprehensive research and monitoring programs, so we have more information about the ecosystem and the impact drilling can have on it,” said Marilyn Heiman, US Arctic program director for Pew, and a former Alaska policy advisor for the Interior Department. “There is a need to protect important ecological and subsistence areas … to keep the ecosystem intact,” she said.

Pew also recommends seasonal drilling restrictions, to limit such work to summer months, when there is much more light and less ice. In this changing climate, even in summer months, however, there is potential for ice, dense fog, storms, high winds and waves, and freezing temperatures. Open waters in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf of the United States generally extend from early July through the second week of October, about 106 days. The report recommends that drilling here should be limited to approximately 46 of those 106 days.

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