On the same day, a group of politicians, executives of the oil industry and investors gathered to discuss how best to exploit the situation. Peter E. Slaiby, vice president of Shell Alaska, told luminaries at the Arctic Imperative Summit “I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska”. A careless statement from Peter – But then again, Peter’s company have invested $4.5 billion over the last seven years in an effort to explore for oil and gas in the Arctic.
Even more to his delight, on Sunday, the 9th of August, Shell’s rig, unfortunately called “The Noble Discoverer” began drilling a 427 metre pilot hole in the Chukchi Sea.
It is estimated that the Arctic could contain more than 22% of the Worlds hydrocarbon deposits, with some 29 billion barrels of oil and more than 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas thought to lie off the Alaska coast alone. North America's largest oil field, Prudhoe Bay, in comparison, held an estimated 25 billion barrels.(national geographic,2012). Hence, the nations with territory in the Arctic have an awful lot to gain. But as the saying goes “no pain, no gain”- so who is the loser in this situation? It certainly isn’t Peter, or his pocket.
The loser, of course, is The Arctic; the ecosystems it supports, it’s cycles, its vastness and most importantly; it’s future.
Up until very recently, the deposits of HC’s have been inaccessible. They have been protected by incredibly thick ice, which was impenetrable by even the most sophisticated drills. Today however, during the summer a large portion of that ice is gone, and it is predicted to be completely ice free by the middle of this century. Now that this protection is fading away, it was only a matter of time for drilling to commence.
Aside from the direct implication of the drilling, a major concern, in light of the Gulf Coast oil spill, is safety. But we are told not to worry, Peter says “his company could effectively clean up an oil spill in the Arctic with heated booms and in situ burning”.- I for one, am not convinced.
We are a global nation heavily dependent on fossil fuels, there is no denying that. But, should it ever be absolutely necessary to locate new oil reserves, it should be done with a heavy heart, not with a smile, and certainly not with “cheering”.
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Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic