60-Second Earth

Oil Harvesting Goes to Extremes

The grounding of a drilling rig in Arctic waters illustrates the risks of pushing the boundaries of oil exploration and recovery. David Biello reports

An Arctic storm tore a drilling rig loose from its tow ship and forced it aground near Alaska's Kodiak Island this week. Just a few months ago, the rig and another began preliminary drilling of the first offshore oil wells in the Arctic.

Shell's efforts to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas have been plagued by problems. But that's just part of the cost of doing energy business in this new era. Consider drilling rig operator Transocean, which agreed to pay the U.S. government $1.4 billion this week for its part in the disastrous three-month long blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Meanwhile, the thirst for oil drives the mining of tar sands in Alberta and the flooding of old wells with steam or CO2 in California and Texas. And, of course, there's the accelerating accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from all that fossil fuel burning.

The resulting climate change is part of what makes drilling for oil offshore in the unfreezing Arctic possible, just as it has opened once mythical shipping routes such as the Northwest and Northeast Passages. That’s a positive feedback loop with negative consequences.

—David Biello

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

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