Latest Accident Raises New Concerns about Arctic Drilling

January 3, 2013

Shell’s Arctic drilling operations encountered yet another setback this week, when one of its two drilling rigs, the Kulluk, broke free from a tow ship during a winter storm and ran aground on Sitkalidak Island. The uninhabited island is located in the Strait of Sitkalidak, near Kodiak Island.

The Kulluk has more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lubricants on board, but as of now it appears to be upright and stable, with no signs of damage to the environment or wildlife being reported. The Coast Guard is leading an effort to remedy the situation and prevent a spill, but inclement weather has slowed the process.

Shell’s operations in the Arctic have been plagued with dangerous weather conditions, equipment failures and operational mishaps. Environmentalists point to this latest accident as further evidence that the oil company is not adequately prepared to engage in drilling operations in the unpredictable waters of the Arctic.

2012 Goldman Prize winner Caroline Cannon, a native Inupiat leader, has been warning against drilling in the Arctic for several years, citing Shell’s lack of spill prevention and response capabilities. Many in the environmental community are hopeful that this latest accident will serve as a wakeup call for regulators.

Michael LeVine, senior Pacific counsel for the environmental group Oceana, told the New York Times, “Hopefully some good will come out of this latest incident, and the government will take a careful look at whether activities such as this can be conducted safely, and if so, what changes are needed to make that possible.”

Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg/U.S. Coast Guard