Pew Proposes Improved Standards for Offshore Drilling in the Arctic

A global research and public policy group is offering the
Interior Department recommendations for world-class Arctic standards for oil
and gas exploration, development and production.
Pew Charitable Trusts, the sole beneficiary of trusts
established by the children of the founder of Sun Oil Company, made its
recommendations in a 142-page document released on Sept. 23. The complete
document – Arctic Standards: Recommendations on Oil Spill Prevention, Response
and Safety, is online at
External reviewers of the document included Roy Robertson,
project manager/preparedness monitor for the Prince William Sound Regional
Citizens’ Advisory Council, which was established in the wake of the Exxon
oil spill.

Among the recommendations is a call for vessels, drilling
rigs and facilities to be built to withstand maximum ice forces and sea states
that may be encountered. Another calls for equipment needed to control spills,
such as relief rigs and well-control containment systems, to be designed for
and located in Alaska’s Arctic, for ready deployment.
An oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would have a profoundly
adverse impact on one of the world’s last relatively untouched marine
ecosystems, the report said. The adverse conditions would impact multiple
marine mammal species, migratory birds and more.
“We’ve been asking for long term comprehensive research and
monitoring programs, so we have more information about the ecosystem and the
impact drilling can have on it,” said Marilyn Heiman, US Arctic program
director for Pew, and a former Alaska policy advisor for the Interior
Department. “There is a need to protect important ecological and subsistence
areas … to keep the ecosystem intact,” she said.

Pew also recommends seasonal drilling restrictions, to limit
such work to summer months, when there is much more light and less ice. In this
changing climate, even in summer months, however, there is potential for ice,
dense fog, storms, high winds and waves, and freezing temperatures. Open waters
in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf of the United States generally extend
from early July through the second week of October, about 106 days. The report recommends
that drilling here should be limited to approximately 46 of those 106 days.