60-Second Earth

Drilling for Offshore Oil Comes to the Arctic

As Shell prepares to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, what are the risks? David Biello reports

The Chukchi Sea lies between Alaska and Russia just north of the Bering Strait. Shell Oil hopes to begin drilling in these Arctic waters in the next few days—if the U.S. government grants permission.

The ship Noble Discoverer will drill two exploratory wells to determine what, if any, hydrocarbons are beneath the seabed—and how well drilling equipment can withstand the rigors of the far north. Those rigors include everything from swirling currents and floating ice chunks to migrating whales.

There’s coral there—scientists sent to the region by Greenpeace have found sea raspberry, a soft, deep sea species. Other such deep sea corals bore the brunt of BP's catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

It remains to be seen whether offshore drilling in the Arctic can be any safer than drilling in balmier waters. Already, Russia spills some 30 million barrels of oil in the Arctic each year, according to Greenpeace, and that's on land.

Regardless, burning oil is one of the primary causes of climate change. Such global warming has thawed the Arctic above all, opening access to yet more oil. Humanity's thirst for oil has yet to gauge its own depths.

—David Biello

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]


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