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The U.S. Coast Guard practiced cleaning up a mock oil spill in the Arctic Sea at the height of the summer off the coast of Alaska, encountering icebergs and virtually non-existent support infrastructure.

As the brief Arctic summer began the slide towards its long, cold, dark winter, the U.S. Coast Guard conducted a three-day exercise with the Defense Department to test its ability to respond to an oil spill in the Arctic Sea. Using the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore, as well as a support tug and barge, along with other vessels, Arctic Shield 2012 tested several different oil containment and skimming technologies, including the DEMSI 'Polar Bear' depicted above.

The reason the Coast Guard is conducting such exercises is because global warming is rapidly melting sea ice, opening up the fabled Northwest Passage to not only to surface ship navigation, but also mineral exploration; oil and gas, in particular. It is believed, depending on various estimates, that the offshore region of the Arctic, out to waters 500m deep, there might be anywhere from  157 billion barrels of oil (bbo) and 299 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas (5% probability) to as little as 44 bbo and 770 tcf (95% probability).  As Business Insider noted, "Given the scarcity of actual drilling data and the reliance on analogs and statistical simulation for this survey, our understanding of the Arctic’s hydrocarbon potential will no doubt evolve as fresh prospecting gets under way."

Based on our current understanding, two-thirds of this is located off the Alaskan coastline, a third off of the Russian Arctic.

So, the Coast Guard practices dealing with the inevitability of oil spills in one of the most inhospitable and ecologically-fragile regions on the planet where it's dark and very, very cold most of the year. This, as Business Insider points out, "will require technologies that don’t yet exist, enormous amounts of capital, and a high tolerance for risk."

But at whose expense, is the question?  If trends continue on their present course, increasingly, the cost will be born, not by the oil companies, but by taxpayers, following the corporate mantra of "internalize reward, externalize risk."

Take the Coast Guard's three-day exercise as an example.  One of the key pieces of equipment being tested was the boom that would be used to surround the spill. To deploy it, it normally has be to assembled on land then towed out to the spill, which is logistically less a problem in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana. The Arctic is another story entirely. The nearest port, Barrow, Alaska, is 600 miles away, so the Coast Guard had to hire an ocean-going tub and barge to haul the boom to the test site. And this is in the summer, when there's daylight nearly 24 hours of the day for some 12 weeks. Now imagine responding to a Deepwater Horizon-like blow-out in the depth of an Arctic winter, when the ocean is frozen over and travel is impossible.

This is why "The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and five colleagues are urging the Obama administration to cancel planned oil-and-gas lease sales off Alaska’s Arctic shores in coming years," reports The Hill.  The letter was sent on September 21st by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and five colleagues.  States the letter:


Challenges with infrastructure and spill response are unprecedented in the Arctic’s remote, undeveloped region: the Arctic Ocean is characterized by hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, sea ice up to 25 feet thick, sub-zero temperatures and months-long darkness.

The Senators further point out that the Arctic has "'extremely limited infrastructure' and that the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away," The Hill adds.

Assuming, as Business Insider declared, "Exploration and development of oil and gas from the Arctic Circle is a foregone conclusion," and that the Obama Administration -- and certainly a Romney White House -- lets oil and gas companies explore and develop the region's hydrocarbon resources, we can assume those same companies are going to use every trick in the book to shift as much of the external costs of these projects -- starting with environmental clean-up -- as possible onto taxpayers and not their shareholders, meaning they get to keep the profits and we pay for the mess, one way or another. Can we really expect they are going to pay for keeping a fleet of icebreakers, barges, booms and skimmers at the ready when a drilling operation goes amiss offshore? In two words, "Hell no!" They weren't ready to deal with the Deepwater Horizon blow-out just offshore of balmy Louisiana.

And here's the real kicker. Based on what we know about the potential offshore reserves in the region and what our current global consumption rate is, "the Arctic may contain anywhere from a 1-3 year supply of oil and a 7-27 year supply of gas."

Actually, it is likely to be even less than that. Continues Business Insider:


[T]hese are merely estimates of 'original oil and gas in place.' Typically, only 25-35% of that amount is economically recoverable using current technology. So the Arctic may in fact have perhaps a 4-month world supply of recoverable oil, and around a 2-year supply of gas.

Is that really worth the risk, much less the effort?

Originally published on EV World.Com

Originally posted to My EV World on Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 12:09 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Is it worth the risk? No. (10+ / 0-)

    Our entire ecosystem depends on the health of the oceans. We are foolish to think we can deal with the Arctic's fury. If disaster couldn't be averted in the Gulf of Mexico, even worse disaster will not be avoidable in the Arctic.

    Now if the oil and gas companies could think of a way to cap all the escaping methane due to climate change, they might have something.

  •  Nobody (6+ / 0-)

    That's the beauty of it. NO responsibility.

    You think our oil companies are bad? Can you imagine what a Russian or Chinese oil company could do to the Arctic?

    Have you seen the photos from Mars? It is our future.

  •  I don't understand how they will drill for oil (3+ / 0-)

    Typically, the oil extractors set up an offshore platform in open water to drill in the ocean floor. I may be just an armchair idiot but I don't see how they can plant a platform in an area that is covered in flowing ice much of the year. The ice doesn't just sit there, it moves. It would seem that the moving ice would tear away the platforms. With their billions of dollars in profits, I'm sure they will come up with some new way of doing this but new technologies come with new problems. Cleanup does not seem to be a technology they ever work on.

    i just baptized andrew breitbart into the church of islam, planned parenthood, the girl scouts and three teachers unions. - @blainecapatch

    by bobinson on Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 03:00:58 PM PDT

    •  There are decades of history for Arctic offshore (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      I found a recent Canadian report[pdf] which includes the history and offshore techniques that have been developed since the early 1970's.

      My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

      by Johnny Nucleo on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 08:16:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow that's cool (0+ / 0-)

        It says that in shallow water, they can just make islands out of dredged sediment and reinforce the sediment with concrete and steel. A little deeper out, they can put up platforms and support them with ice breakers to combat the flowing ice. even deeper out, they use drill ships during the summer months then run underwater pipelines to land bases.

        The odd thing about this industry generated pdf is that the pictures used tend to show what happens when things go wrong. They don't emphasize it. The text doesn't really say anything about spills or cleanup.

        i just baptized andrew breitbart into the church of islam, planned parenthood, the girl scouts and three teachers unions. - @blainecapatch

        by bobinson on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 10:22:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Per this: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The grouch, glorificus
    Is that really worth the risk, much less the effort?
    No for us, yes for corporations and therein lies the rub.

    I am solidly against arctic drilling and have been for years and years. It doesn't take a genius to figure out the risks/problems with arctic drilling. But most people don't get it.

    There needs to be a huge increase on TV etc. on this issue to bring to light what the problems are and WHY we shouldn't be pursuing arctic drilling now or ever.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them. "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."--Barney Frank 01/02/2012

    by cany on Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 04:55:32 PM PDT

  •  Is it worth driving? or flying? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The grouch, glorificus, Johnny Nucleo

    Until we face up to the idea of not buying the latest hybred or flying off to Yellowstone to see the buffalo before jetting down to the Keys to spend Xmas with the parents, we're stuck with it.

    There will be spills, there will be blow outs, there already have been blow outs, they just don't catch fire or make the news. Blow outs happen all the time.

    Blaming it on corporations is just a cop out. We burn the stuff. The richer you are the more you burn. Bigger houses, more houses, more toys.

    Look at my profile photo, that's me giving the hang loose sign in the arctic on a BP contract a quarter century ago. It's hard to tell where solid earth ends and the shore ice begins. Nothing changes, we still burn the stuff.

    It's like telling the Columbians they are responsible for our coke addiction.  We are the oil addicts.

    How big is your personal carbon footprint?

    by ban nock on Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 05:06:01 PM PDT

    •  I think you're 90+% right. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock

      Our insane energy consumption and thirst for oil is most of the problem. the rest is that the energy companies use their obscene profits to buy the laws that perpetuate their profits, and their purchased politicians stifle any chance of alternatives to their greed.

      You know, that doesn't excuse us. However, when you see any attempt to become more efficient, whether it's high speed rail or wind and solar, get attacked, dumped by certain governors, and any scientific information denied by the Jim Inhofes of the world, it's enough to make a conspiracy theorist look sane.

    •  The surest way to change that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock

      Is to not bring new supplies to market and switch to other technologies.   Pretty straightforward is to dont just give up

      Never believe your own press, never drink your own KoolAid

      by Mindful Nature on Sat Sep 29, 2012 at 09:18:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We are flying and driving to our hearts content (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mindful Nature

        right now, where we get the oil has zero affect on prices or our use of it. I've yet to hear anyone suggest that not building the pipeline will somehow cause Americans to burn less.

        I'm not at all sure what you don't want to give up, but if it's burning petrol we will have to if we want to reduce CO2.

        How big is your personal carbon footprint?

        by ban nock on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 10:46:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Arctic Oil Spills: Who Pays the Bill? (0+ / 0-)

    Most likely it will be the public who pays for cleaning up arctic oil spills.

    Who pays the bill for a nuclear reactor meltdown?  
    Thanks to the Price Anderson Act, private nuclear plant operators are indemnified by the Government in the event of an accidental release of radioactivity from their plant.

  •  Not for this Alaskan (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My Inupiaq friends rely on whales, seals, and fish for a large part of their protein, with caribou and waterfowl providing most of the rest.

    I don't want their subsistence foods threatened in any way.

    It's simply not worth the risk.


    "Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die" --- Albert King

    by HarpboyAK on Sun Sep 30, 2012 at 02:37:47 AM PDT

  •  Life pays the bill. Coastal life. Sea life. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Indigenous life.  All life.

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