As 2012 drew to a close we were given yet another reason to be weary of fossil fuels. On December 31st an offshore oil drilling rig belonging to Shell ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska after it broke free from tow ships in rough seas (see video). The rig called the Kulluk is carrying more than 140,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of lubricating oil and hydraulic fluid.
The US Coast Guard managed to rescue the 17 crew members on board the Kulluk. Alaska’s wildlife, including a quarter million birds are being threatened by the rogue oil rig.
Spills in Alaska are potentially far more destructive due to the diverse array of wildlife they impact. Additionally the remoteness of Alaska compounds the already difficult task of managing a spill.
On March 24, 1989 in Prince William Sound, Alaska, an oil tanker named Exxon Valdez spilled between 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil. The Valdez spill is second only to the Deepwater Horizon a well owned by BP in the Gulf of Mexico. This environmental disaster killed 11 men and spewed crude for three months in 2010. A total of 4.9 million barrels of oil poured into the Gulf making it the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.
BP’s ecological infamy is not reserved to the Gulf of Mexico, the company has a long history of oil spills at its Alaskan pipeline. In July 2011, a BP oil pipeline at its Lisburne field ruptured during testing and spilled a mixture of methanol and oily water onto the tundra. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said the spill amounted to 2,100 to 4,200 gallons.
In a more recent example of the risks associated with oil in the state, a Spanish drilling company suffered a blowout at its well on Alaska’s North Slope in February 2012.
Sadly, these events are not anamalous. As reviewed by a 2010 National Wildlife Federation report oil disasters are tragically common.
Marilyn Heiman, director of the Pew Environment Group’s U.S. Arctic program, said “Given that the Kulluk has run aground, it calls into question our readiness to drill in such a remote and risky region,” Heiman said. “The Obama administration needs to impose Arctic-specific safety, training and spill response standards. Clearly we’re not there yet.”
In his haste to mollify an energy hungry public President Obama is putting the environment at risk. In light of recent accidents and potential impacts to wildlife, oil exploitation is nothing short of irresponsible, particularly in Alaska. While a prohibition on drilling in Alaska would make sense, at the very least resources should be put in place to deal with inevitable spills.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
Video of the Shell Oil Rig Grounded in Alaska
Shell’s Game with the Future of the Arctic
Another Offshore Oil Leak this Time from Shell
Lawsuit Protecting the Arctic from Arctic Drilling
Oil Spills off the Coast of New Zealand
Transocean to Pay $1.4 billion for its Role in the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010
The Cost of Oil: BP Barred from Doing Business with the US
The Costs of Oil: BP Liable for Tens of Billions
BP’s Corporate Irresponsibility
Responsibility for the Costs of the Gulf Oil Spill
The Costs of Offshore Drilling
Managing the Massive Gulf Oil Spill
Offshore Oil is an Avoidable Tragedy
Two More Reasons to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels
The End of Oil and the Next Energy Economy
Reigning in Irresponsible Oil Giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil
The Business of Climate Change Deception
Planning a Future Without Oil
Koch Industries’ Environmental Crimes
Koch Industries Financing Climate Denial
Koch Industries Destroys the Environment & Funds Climate Denial
Protecting the Planet from Corporate Influence