But this hasn’t appeased everyone. LeVine notes that Shell’s plan to contain a spill relies on skimmers and booms that he says do not work well anywhere, and can be particularly ineffective when caught up on sea ice. And, as Short observes, conditions in the area could make it hard to get extra relief ships in. “There’s no infrastructure there,” he says. “I mean none.”
LeVine says that the main problem is a lack of scientific knowledge about the baseline conditions in the region, in terms of everything from ocean currents to animal populations. “We can’t target [oil spill] responses when we don’t know where the critical areas are,” he says. Oceana estimates that the necessary baseline monitoring could be done in 5–7 years for US$20 million a year. “That sounds like a lot,” says LeVine, but he points out that the US government made US$2.7 billion from the sale of leases for the Chukchi Sea alone. Legal battles have already delayed exploration by five years, he adds. “It’s not too late to start this process.”
Oil companies are doing good science in the region: several, including Shell, are jointly funding the Chukchi Sea Environmental Studies Program, for example. The conflict, says LeVine, is about whether that science needs to be completed before drilling projects commence. “There’s a disagreement about when that needs to be done. The companies think they can gather the data while drilling,” he says.