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Arctic drilling technology "not safe" – report

14th August 2012

Green groups weigh in on evidence pointing to industry not being “technologically ready” to start drilling in the Arctic

Developing oil and gas in the deepwater and Arctic frontiers is a major ongoing technological challenge

Drilling for oil in the Russian Arctic could have disastrous consequences because of the lack of technology and infrastructure to deal with a possible spill, according to a new report.

The report, by Greenpeace and WWF, assesses the risks of an oil spill in the Pechora Sea in Russia's Arctic, where state-owned Gazprom has installed a huge drilling platform.

A sizeable spill from the Prirazlomnaya platform could contaminate protected areas and nature reserves on the shore and islands within about 20 hours after a spill, while emergency teams would take at least three days to reach the area, it found. The platform is about 1,000 kilometers from Murmansk, the nearest port.

The damning findings follow a similar report issued in April by the US Government Accountability Office. It urged the government to consider more thoroughly the unique risks of drilling in the Arctic and lack of containment infrastructure as it assessed Shell's plans to drill off Alaska's coast.

Greenpeace International's director Kumi Naidoo told reporters the paper reflects "a very potent reality – and that is an oil spill in the Arctic would be virtually impossible to clean up."

A projected oil spill that releases 10,000 metric tons of oil over five days would contaminate half a million square kilometers (about 300,000 square miles) of water, the report said.

Environmentalists insist that oil production in the Arctic is unprofitable and cannot survive without government subsidies.

Gazprom is pioneering the oil development of Russia's sector of the Arctic and was the first Russian company to dispatch a drilling rig to the Pechora Sea in northwest Russia last year. The oil field they are prospecting holds some 6.6 million tons of oil.

Environmentalists argue that Arctic drilling is a hazard that mankind cannot afford since there are no tried and tested technologies to deal with oil spills in conditions with ice – under ice in particular.

The Greenpeace/WWF report was commissioned by the two environmental organisations and compiled by an independent Moscow-based think tank.

Shell plans to begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer have been put on hold due to not being able to win approval for an oil spill barge. The barge remains in Bellingham, Washington undergoing inspections and awaiting certification from the US Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week said “It’s not the ice conditions that have held up the effort in terms of moving forward. It’s the necessity for Shell to be able to demonstrate that they have met the regulatory requirements which we have put into place. And those regulatory requirements must be met. If they are not met, then there won’t be a Shell exploration effort that will occur this year”.

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