Can Arctic Drilling Be Done Safely?


August 18, 2014 The Interior Department is putting the finishing touches on new safety standards for oil-drilling operations off the northern coast of Alaska.

National Journal's Ben Geman writes: "On Friday Interior's offshore safety branch sent the proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The rules are designed to 'promote safe, responsible, and effective drilling activities ... while also ensuring the protection of Alaska's coastal communities and the marine environment,' according to OMB's website. Royal Dutch Shell and other companies that hold leases in the region hope to tap large deposits under the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. But environmentalists say the region is too ecologically fragile to develop and that industry lacks the ability to contain potential spills in the remote seas."

What should the rule look like, and how can it be written to most effectively minimize the risk of an accident or a spill? Do the potential benefits outweigh the risks of Arctic drilling, or should the administration take Arctic waters off the table when it comes to fossil-fuel exploration and development?

Randall Luthi •
While the United States is still on the sidelines of Arctic exploration, other countries and exploration companies are actively in the game. Canada, Norway and Russia are actively pursuing development in the Arctic. Every year there are more studies available on how best to develop oil and natural gas in Arctic conditions. Will there be new challenges? Absolutely. Arctic conditions differ than those in the Gulf of Mexico, but the safety principles are the same. The oil and gas industry is renowned for developing technologies and methods needed to safely explore for and produce oil and natural gas in the heat of the Middle East, the storms of the North Sea, and the ultra-deep finds in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil. Certainly development in the Arctic will require extra care, and perhaps added technological innovation, but yes, it is possible to do it safely.

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