24 June 2010


Day 66 of the ongoing BP Gulf oil spill -- in spite of the moratorium on deep-sea drilling which BP's disaster precipitated, the company is forging ahead with plans to use untested technology to drill offshore in the Beaufort Sea, off Alaska's north coast. True to form, oversight agencies allowed BP to write its own environmental assessment of the project. The drilling rig is located on a tiny 31-acre artificial gravel island. The insubstantial causeway to the island is shown above. The project calls for drilling downward for two miles (twice the depth of the Discovery rig in the Gulf), then laterally for five miles to reach an undersea oil reservoir. This is not deep-sea drilling? (Click on map at bottom to enlarge image.)

Given the company's complete and utter incompetence in dealing with predictable glitches, I can only conclude that we truly have been transported through the looking-glass. The array of dangers posed by this project is formidable. Even if, by some miracle, drilling first down and then sideways is executed successfully, what happens if (as happened in the Gulf) management penny-pinching and disregard for safety lead to another disaster? Alaska's North Slope is several orders of magnitude more geographically isolated than the Gulf of Mexico. An explosion or catastrophic oil spill would be impossible to contain. It would take weeks for relief vessels and equipment to even reach the site -- perhaps longer if an event were to happen in winter.

The so-called extended drilling involved in this project carries additional risks. There is an increased likelihood of gas kickbacks which may go undetected until it is too late. Further, the sheer distances involved mean more massive machinery to drive the drilling, placing increased pressure on pipes and well casings.

It would be a dangerous undertaking in any environment. Located as it is, near the fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and traversing migration routes for bowhead whales, the risks are extreme and unacceptable. What are they thinking? What are WE thinkng -- the time has come to flood the White House and members of Congress with emails and phone calls protesting this latest blunder before it becomes something far worse. Here is where to contact the White House, and here is where to contact Senators and Representatives. Including this link to the NYTimes article would be helpful.

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