Shell VP: Yeah, we’re gonna spill some oil in the Arctic – the gall!
By Philip Bump
Your quote of the day comes from the BBC.
There’s no sugar-coating this, I imagine there would be spills, and no spill is OK. But will there be a spill large enough to impact people’s subsistence? My view is no, I don’t believe that would happen.
That’s Shell’s Alaska vice president, Pete Slaiby, discussing the company’s new, fraught drilling operations off the North Slope of Alaska. During the summer, the company had a near-daily series of screw-ups that did little to inspire confidence in its ability to successfully extract oil from the ocean floor without spilling it all over themselves and the ocean and the animals in the ocean and probably you, too, somehow. So I’m not sure if Slaiby’s admission is a refreshing demonstration of realism or a heart-attack-inducing statement of indifference.
I do however love his statement that, yeah, there’ll be spills, but, don’t worry: minor ones. How … does that work? The entire context for the BBC article is that Native populations in Alaska are nervous about the prospect of drilling and a spill.
“We are the oldest continuous inhabitants of North America,” says Point Hope’s Mayor Steve Oomituk. “We’ve been here thousands of years.”
Oomituk shares the fear of many in the small community — population 800 — that offshore drilling by Shell could destroy the food chain that they rely on for survival. Over 80% of the food eaten in Point Hope is caught by the people themselves. …
“If an oil rig spilled and made a mess of the ocean, how am I ever going to eat a whale that’s not contaminated? Crude oil stays on the bottom of the ocean,” [local resident Patrick Jobstone] says.
To which Shell responds, in essence: Don’t worry your pretty little heads.
The brashness of the dismissal is ridiculous for several reasons. First, this is one of the most remote, unforgiving parts of the world. It took months to stop a spill 100 miles from one of the busiest regions in the United States during warm weather. How long would it take to get spill-response equipment and material in place off the Alaskan coast?
And, second, Shell’s clownish failures over the summer included its inability to demonstrate that its containment system worked. Earlier today, details of that failure were released. From KUOW.org:
Before Shell can drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, it needs to prove to federal officials that it can clean up a massive oil spill there. That proof hinges on a barge being built in Bellingham, [Wash.,] called the Arctic Challenger. …
According to [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] internal emails obtained by KUOW, the containment dome test was supposed to take about a day. That estimate proved to be wildly optimistic.
- Day 1: The Arctic Challenger’s massive steel dome comes unhooked from some of the winches used to maneuver it underwater. The crew has to recover it and repair it.
- Day 2: A remote-controlled submarine gets tangled in some anchor lines. It takes divers about 24 hours to rescue the submarine.
- Day 5: The test has its worst accident. On that dead-calm Friday night, Mark Fesmire, the head of BSEE’s Alaska office, is on board the Challenger. He’s watching the underwater video feed from the remote-control submarine when, a little after midnight, the video screen suddenly fills with bubbles. The 20-foot-tall containment dome then shoots to the surface. The massive white dome “breached like a whale,” Fesmire e-mails a colleague at BSEE headquarters.
- Then the dome sinks more than 120 feet. A safety buoy, basically a giant balloon, catches it before it hits bottom. About 12 hours later, the crew of the Challenger manages to get the dome back to the surface. “As bad as I thought,” Fesmire writes his BSEE colleague. “Basically the top half is crushed like a beer can.”
But don’t worry, Native people. A spill will be nothing to worry about. Like Shell’s massive 2011 spill in the North Sea, labeled the worst spill in the region in a decade. No bigs.
Here’s a thought, Shell/Slaiby. If “no spill is OK,” don’t fucking drill.
Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.