The challenges of oil spill response in the Arctic

Content Cover Image

Ice breaker and drillship in the Beaufort Sea. Credit: BOEMRE

 Editor's Note: This article is excerpted directly from National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, "The Challenges of Oil Spill Response in the Arctic," Draft, Staff Working Paper No. 5. It has been edited only to conform to the Encyclopedia's style guidelines.

This draft staff working paper describes some of the difficulties of spill response in the Arctic.1 In the staff’s view, response challenges in the Arctic are important for the Commission to consider in its recommendations for the future of offshore drilling. This paper provides background information regarding the status of offshore drilling in Arctic waters, identifies problems with responding to oil spills in Arctic waters, and highlights areas for further Commission inquiry with respect to Arctic drilling.


The Region at Issue

caption Offshore drilling unit SSDC under tow in the Beaufort Sea. Credit: BOEMRE

The two locations of offshore drilling in the Arctic, the Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi Sea, present different drilling conditions and response issues.

The Beaufort Sea drilling sites are situated on man-made gravel islands located two to fifteen miles offshore, in water depths up to approximately 100 feet.2 They are often linked to onshore facilities and are close to land and shoreline resources. The majority of the construction of the offshore gravel islands, however, needs to be completed during the winter ice season when an ice road exists between the site and the mainland.3

The locations of drilling interest in the Chukchi Sea are much further offshore and, consequently, much less accessible. This area had until recently generated less interest from industry as a result of its lack of shoreline infrastructure and the consequent heightened cost of drilling.4 The current applications from the Shell Oil Company and StatOil are for seismic exploration and exploratory drilling at least sixty miles off the coast that would take place during the open water season from July to October.5

These differences in environmental conditions and drilling proposals mean that spill response in the Beaufort Sea would potentially be more straightforward than spill response in the Chukchi. The Beaufort region has more developed and proximate infrastructure, so access to a spill area might be easier. However, the Beaufort drilling sites are closer to both the sensitive shoreline and the areas traversed by bowhead whales and whale hunters.

A spill or blowout in the Chukchi Sea area would be more difficult to access, let alone contain and clean up. Although Shell has pre-positioned assets dedicated to potential spill response in the Chukchi Sea,6 bringing any assets, both the pre-staged equipment and any additional resources brought from elsewhere, to bear on a spill in the Arctic would be more difficult than in the Gulf of Mexico. And once the winter freeze occurs, any spill would be impossible to access for purposes of response. On the other hand, any spill in the Chukchi Sea would be far from coastal resources, and oil trapped beneath sea ice would be unlikely to spread into marine ecosystems until the ice began to melt.

The Arctic areas also stand in contrast with the Gulf of Mexico in terms of the issues posed by deepwater drilling. The Deepwater Horizon containment efforts were complicated immensely by the depth of the wellhead and the high well pressures encountered at the Macondo well. Wells in both the Chukchi and the Beaufort Seas would be in far shallower water, which could make it easier to contain a blowout or riser leak. Shell asserts that well pressures in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas would be approximately one third to one half of the pressures faced by BP at the Macondo well.7 Finally, although wells in the Chukchi would be similar to the Macondo well in terms of distance from shore, the human uses of the shoreline of the Gulf Coast are much more expansive than the human uses of the North Slope Coast.8

The contrasts between these regions and between open water and ice conditions affect the nature of spill response and spill response planning. Many of the issues highlighted in this paper apply to both the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas, but the different conditions should be kept in mind.

Industry Interest

caption Concrete island drilling system (CIDS), Beaufort Sea. Credit: BOEMRE

Although interest in exploring Alaska’s North Slope for oil began in the early 20th century, the region’s remoteness and lack of land availability prevented serious private investment, leaving most exploration to the U.S. Navy. It was the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk River fields from 1967-69 that spurred the industry to explore the Arctic region of Alaska.9 In 1979, the government conducted a leasing sale that included state and federal waters of the Beaufort Sea, resulting in the first major venture into Arctic offshore exploration.10

Drilling in the Beaufort began in 1981, with a total of 20 wells drilled by 1989. Only a few of the wells were further developed, including those in the Northstar and Liberty fields. Most of the wells drilled in the Beaufort came up dry. Among the dry wells were those in the Mukluk field, which, at a cost of $120 million, are considered the most expensive dry wells ever drilled.11 In the Chukchi, remoteness and harsh conditions continued to discourage industry activity. The first lease sale in the area was not held until 1988.

In the 1990s, industry’s interest decreased in both the Chukchi and the Beaufort, in part because of the failure of Mukluk. But more recently, interest—in particular, by Shell—has begun to grow once again. Several factors have contributed to renewed oil industry interest in drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Improved technology has made remote locations more economically viable to explore. Additionally, the then-Minerals Management Service (MMS)12 issued new information for the Burger field in the Chukchi Sea in advance of the lease sales held in 2008, which detailed significant untapped oil and gas resources and made the region much more attractive for exploration and investment.13 The U.S. Geology Survey, also in 2008, released a reevaluation of Arctic potential resources, estimating that “90 billion barrels of oil, 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids may remain to be found in the Arctic, of which approximately 84 percent is expected to occur in offshore areas.”14

Shell estimates that there are 25 billion barrels of oil in the Alaskan Arctic, with the majority in the Chukchi Sea; the data from BOEMRE, which accounts only for oil that is economically recoverable with current technology, is 0.15 to 12 billion barrels of oil in the Chukchi.15 Shell acquired leases in the Beaufort during Lease Sale 195 in 2005 and in the Chukchi during Lease Sale 193 in 2008, and it has announced plans to drill in both regions. Shell’s proposal for drilling exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea envisions operations taking place from approximately July 15 to October 30. Drilling will occur from a floating drillship. If Shell begins production at some time in the future, production drilling will occur year-round, though access to the drilling operations by boat will be easier during open water season.

The shrinking Arctic ice cap is also a factor. A smaller ice cap creates longer open water seasons and increased open water areas, while diminishing risk of ice collisions.16 The Arctic Ocean is subject to regular freezing and melting as the ice shelf that extends off the main Arctic ice cap expands in the winter and retreats in the warmer summer months. The ice seasons consist of: “open water” in the summer, “freeze up” as the ice forms through the fall, “over winter” as the solid floating ice attaches to the shelf, and “break up” as the ice melts and cracks into floes and other large pieces through the spring. As the temperatures in the Arctic increase, both the extent of ice cover overall and the length of time that ice blocks the sea decreases. Estimates vary as to how soon the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in the summer months, but most projections place the event sometime between 2030 and 2100.17

Status of Exploration and Leasing

The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas sit in different positions with regard to where, how, and when exploration and drilling may occur. All drilling in the Arctic is on pause as of this writing. On September 3, 2010, during a trip to Alaska, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Department of the Interior will not decide whether to allow exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the Alaska Arctic outer continental shelf until the Department has completed a review of issues relating to offshore drilling activities.18 On September 9, 2010, the state of Alaska sued the Department of the Interior in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, contending that the announcement imposed an improper de facto moratorium and did not give the state a chance to comment or a final decision to appeal.19 An Interior spokesperson indicated that the Department was “taking a cautious approach” and needed “additional information about spill risks and spill response capabilities.”20 The Department also contends that there is no moratorium in place for Alaska, but rather a period of additional review of proposed drilling plans.21

Beaufort Sea

caption Drillship in the Beaufort Sea. Credit: BOEMRE

Pioneer Natural Resources, Eni Petroleum, Shell, and BP all have interests in the Beaufort Sea. All offshore fields in the Beaufort Sea are either fully or partially based on artificial offshore islands.

Pioneer Natural Resources was the first independent company to control a producing field in the Beaufort Sea. It has been extracting oil in the Oooguruk offshore field since 2008 in partnership with Eni. The site is located on an artificial gravel island five miles offshore in four-and-a-half feet of water.22 Italy’s Eni has gradually relinquished some of its onshore leases and has instead focused on developing its near-shore Nikaitchuq field in the Beaufort Sea. Eni plans initially to produce oil through an onshore base and later to construct an offshore island and continue production from the water. The company has also teamed up with Shell to conduct seismic tests in the Harrison Bay area of the Beaufort.23

BP operates three offshore fields in the Beaufort Sea: Northstar, Endicott, and Liberty. All of them are constructed on man-made gravel islands in the Beaufort Sea waters. The first two fields are older operations, while Liberty was set to begin operating this summer. Liberty is of particular note because it is an ultra-extended reach well: although it will be drilled in fairly shallow water within three miles from shore on state submerged lands, the well will extend laterally for up to eight miles from the surface location of the drilling rig.24 In light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, federal regulators have decided to review BP’s plans before allowing BP final permission to drill at Liberty.25

MMS proposed additional lease sales in the Beaufort Sea in its 2010-2015 draft proposed five-year leasing program.26 The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) commented on this plan, raising issues related to the impacts of off shore oil exploration and development on living marine resources and their habitats. It also conveyed its concern about the lack of oil spill response preparedness in the Arctic and encouraged leasing to be delayed pending additional research.27 President Obama’s March 31, 2010 announcement of a new outer-continental shelf policy cancelled planned some leases under the 2007-2012 leasing plan and delayed implementation of the proposed 2010-2015 plan to 2012-2017. The 2012-2017 plan is in its early stages of development, and will evaluate whether or not to lease areas in the Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas. Public meetings to determine the scope of the environmental impact statement and the areas to be considered in the five-year leasing program were scheduled for summer 2010, but were cancelled in light of the Deepwater Horizon spill.28

Chukchi Sea

caption In 2004, the M/V Selendang Ayu spilled more than 350,000 gallons of oil into the Bering Sea during a storm. Attempts to recover oil during spills in Alaska have often failed and, in many cases, weather and other adverse conditions prevent any response at all. Oil spills in Alaska have killed birds, tainted shellfish, fouled shorelines, and contributed to declines of fish populations. Credit: NOAA

The 2008 sale of Lease Area 193 in this region proved to be the most profitable in the history of Alaska offshore leasing. Companies bid a total of $2.6 billion for the available lease areas. Lease Sale 193 encompasses approximately 29.4 million acres of the Outer Continental Shelf in the Chukchi Sea. In 2008 seven companies bid for leases: ConocoPhillips, Shell Gulf of Mexico, StatoilHydro USA E&P, the Northern America Civil Recovery Arbitrage Corp, Repsol E&P USA, Eni Petroleum, and Iona Energy Company.29

Shell is the only company that has presented plans to drill in the Chukchi (after conducting seismic studies there in 2006 and 2007). It received preliminary permits to drill up to three wells during the summer of 2010. A coalition of Alaska Native and environmental groups challenged the adequacy of the environmental review of the lease sale, contending that the Final Environmental Impact Statement had not fully examined impacts on the environment and human communities. On July 21, 2010, the Federal District Court for the District of Alaska agreed, enjoined all activity under Lease Sale 193, and remanded to the BOEMRE to conduct a more thorough environmental impact analysis.30 On August 2, 2010, the court amended its ruling and allowed non-drilling activities to continue, granting Shell and Statoil permission to conduct seismic tests in the Chukchi Sea during the remainder of the 2010 summer.31

Shell spent $2.1 billion for its 275 lease blocks in the Chukchi in 2008.32 A leaseholder can have a tract for up to ten years but then must have a development plan in place or the Secretary of the Interior will cancel the non-producing lease.33 Shell has used up three of those years on its Chukchi sites. Even if the exploratory drilling occurs in the Chukchi and is successful, Shell predicts that another ten to fifteen years would pass before production began.34

As with the Beaufort Sea, NOAA’s comments on recent proposed lease sales in the Chukchi expressed the view that no leasing should occur in the Chukchi Sea without additional research on oil spill response.35

Overview of Applicable Regulatory Requirements Related to Spill Response36

BOEMRE and Alaska Regulations

BOEMRE and Alaska Department of Conservation regulations require an applicant for a permit to conduct offshore exploration or production to provide information regarding its response capabilities. BOEMRE requires an emergency response action plan, which identifies, among other things, a spill management team, a planned location for a spill-response operations center, and an identification of procedures to be followed in the event of a spill.37 The plan must also include a worst-case discharge appendix.38 In addition to information about the potential volume, trajectory, and impacted areas in a worst-case discharge spill, the appendix must include a discussion of the potential response to the worst-case discharge scenario in adverse weather conditions. This discussion requires a description of the response equipment; its type, location, and quantity; the amount of time to move the equipment to the spill; and capability, including effective daily recovery capacity. Adverse weather conditions are defined elsewhere in the regulations and “include, but are not limited to: Fog, inhospitable water and air temperatures, wind, sea ice, current, and sea states.”39

Alaska regulators may additionally require an applicant for a permit for an exploration or production facility to “account for variations in seasonal conditions” and “provide response scenarios for a discharge of the applicable response planning standard volume under typical summer environmental conditions and typical winter environmental conditions.”40 Alaska regulations also specify how much response equipment, including boom, skimmers, and personnel, must be carried, while noting that these are minimum planning requirements, not what may be actually required to respond to a spill.

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Alaska is conducting an analysis of the state regulations regarding offshore drilling. Additionally, the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission41 has put together a commission to review offshore drilling practices and ultra-extended reach wells.42 The Commission put out a public notice on June 24, 2010, seeking public comment on the current requirements regarding well blowout prevention and well control and their possible expansion, including whether the Commission should require “operators drilling offshore or ultra-extended reach wells to demonstrate the ready capability to drill a relief well if necessary.”43 The review is focused on source control and does not appear to be investigating spill response issues. The Division of Oil and Gas, within the Department of Natural Resources, is evaluating its own rules and requirements to determine whether the existing authorities regulating petroleum are sufficient. That study may be completed as early as this September.44

Shell’s Chukchi Regional Exploration Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan

A review of Shell’s Chukchi Regional Exploration Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan (“Shell C-Plan”) illustrates some of the current requirements and the level of detail provided to meet them. Shell is the only company to have made a proposal for drilling in the Chukchi, so there are unfortunately no competing plans with which to compare the response plans Shell proposes. This paper’s brief discussion of Shell’s proposal is not meant to be comprehensive.

Because Shell’s proposal is for exploratory drilling, rather than production, it is subject to different requirements than those for producing wells.45 BOEMRE regulations require an exploratory drilling operation to calculate a worse-case discharge scenario lasting thirty days, and to provide a response plan for that scenario.46 The worst-case discharge is the daily volume possible from an uncontrolled blowout.47 The state regulations require an exploration facility to plan for a release of 16,500 barrels, and an additional 5,500 barrels for each of twelve days past seventy-two hours in the case of a blowout.48 Shell’s final C-Plan includes response plans for a discharge of 5,500 barrels for thirty days, for a total release of 165,000 barrels.49

With regard to risks from loss of well control, Shell believes that “a prudent operator can conduct a Chukchi Sea drilling program using a single drillship,” which would “relocate to a safe location to initiate a relief well” in the event of a blowout.50 Shell estimates that it could drill a relief well in as few as sixteen days or as many as thirty-four days. Shell’s preferred method for containing a blowout is the use of dynamic surface control measures.51 The plan, which Shell indicates is accepted as best available technology, is to pump fluid down the well casing and circulate the fluid at a sufficient rate to create friction, which will match or exceed the reservoir pressure and stop the flow.52 Shell states that it would likely not be able to use a well-capping technique because of the nature of the well. It notes that “[w]ell capping is not feasible for offshore wells from moored vessels with [the blowout preventer] sitting below the mudline.”53 Because of this limitation, the C-Plan asserts that Shell would immediately mobilize to drill a relief well in the event of a blowout.

Since the Deepwater Horizon event, Shell has added to its plan a proposal to build a containment system similar to that built to control the Macondo well. It plans to store a containment dome and containment recovery system at a port in Alaska and to deploy it in the event of a subsea spill.54

The Shell C-Plan notes that, in addition to the Shell-operated response equipment and response teams, Alaska Clean Seas would be used as the primary contractor. Alaska Clean Seas is a non-profit oil spill response operator whose members are companies exploring or drilling on the North Slope or on the Outer Continental Shelf.55 (A similar organization, the Marine Spill Response Corporation, exists for the Gulf of Mexico.) The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation also runs an additional oil spill response company. In the event of a blowout, Shell proposes to call on Wild Well Control, Inc., a well-control specialist.56

Shell notes that recovery of the spilled oil would be limited by the presence of ice, and the plan anticipates that during freeze-up conditions, some oil would become encapsulated by the ice. Shell states that it would monitor and track such oil, and that “response strategies and specific tactics will be modified to accommodate the challenges of working with a variety of potential ice conditions.”57 Within the context of each response strategy discussed in the plan, Shell acknowledges some of the limitations that the presence of ice creates. As discussed in greater depth below, it is likely that non-mechanical response strategies such as in situ burning would play a large role in any response.

MMS conditionally approved Shell’s exploration plan (as distinguished from the C-plan) on December 7, 2009.58 MMS found that Shell’s plans for “responding to a blowout, loss or disablement to the drilling unit, or loss of or damage to support craft,” complied with a regulation specific to Alaska offshore projects requiring emergency plans, and included, as required, accompanying procedures for critical operations and curtailment.59 However, MMS required that Shell “provide documentation on the availability of suitable alternative drilling unit(s) that would be made available to Shell should it be necessary to drill a relief well.”60 Shell has identified an additional drillship that could be mobilized to begin drilling a relief well, the Kulluk drilling unit, likely to be stored at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in southwest Alaska.61

Shell’s initial C-Plan was submitted in May 2009.62 MMS gave its conditional approval on December 18, 2009.63 Both MMS and Alaska regulators required Shell to submit additional information on several response issues, such as where response equipment would be pre-staged, the estimated mobilization times for spill response equipment, a copy of its contract with oil spill response operators for dispersant support, and the length of time it would take Alaska Clean Seas to transport response support from Prudhoe Bay to the Chukchi sites.64 MMS also required Shell to conduct contingency plan exercises, including a tabletop drill addressing the worst-case discharge scenario, and deployment exercises demonstrating the capacity to carry out the response activities described in the plan. Shell submitted a revised plan in March 2010.65

On April 6, 2010, MMS gave final unconditional approval of the Shell C-Plan, finding that the requested information had been provided. In a news interview after the Deepwater Horizon spill, BOEMRE spokesperson John Callahan said, “The Alaska Region [of BOEMRE] can confirm that it reviewed Shell’s contingency plan and found it adequate for the time it was issued. However, in light of the BP oil spill in the Gulf and new requirements for the plans, we will be reviewing the adequacy of the current version of the project’s spill plan.”66

Challenges of Spill Response

caption Teams of scientists set up equipment on sea ice near the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy in the Chukchi Sea on July 4. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

The Arctic environment poses unique challenges for spill response. Some limitations of existing techniques are discussed below. To the extent the Shell C-Plan seeks to address these issues, Shell’s proposed method of adapting to the limitations is described.

Adverse Weather

The presence or absence of ice is a large factor in the ability to respond to a spill, but it is not the only environmental factor affecting spill response. Temperature affects the consistency of oil and the speed at which it degrades. Winds and the resulting wave action are another factor. High energy from wind and waves can help oil to disperse naturally, but this energy also breaks up a thick slick into multiple thinner slicks, which are more difficult to address. Also, in broken ice, waves are less effective at naturally dispersing oil.67

Weather, including wind and wave activity, also affects responder access to an oiled area and whether recovery strategies such as boom and skimmers will work. Adverse weather conditions prevented responders from collecting oil from the wellhead, employing mechanical recovery methods, and conducting in situ burns at times during the Deepwater Horizon response. Seasonally short Arctic days and the prevalence of fog and storms also limit the amount of time when response is feasible. Sea state may be calmer in the Arctic than in the Gulf, as the sea ice has a muffling effect on waves. However, the water may grow turbulent over time as the summer ice melts and wave activity increases.68

The amount of time when responders are simply unable to work is known as the response gap, and it is based on, among other things, adverse weather conditions. A study of response capabilities in Prince William Sound attempted to quantify the response gap in that region.69 Researchers identified when response efforts would not be possible based on their investigation of when environmental conditions would cause mechanical recovery systems to fail. For example, they concluded that response efforts would not be affected by wind speeds of less than twenty-one knots, would be impaired but possible in speeds between twenty-one and thirty knots, and would not be possible in winds of over thirty knots. They then used six years of hourly wind, sea state (a measure which includes wave height and wave period), temperature, and visibility data from two locations in Prince William Sound to evaluate the length of time that environmental conditions exceeded response operating limits.70 They eliminated any days when the locations in the Sound were closed to tanker traffic. The study found that, considering all the environmental limitations together, response operating limits were exceeded, and response was not possible, 38% of the time. That figure rose to 65% of the time during the winter season.71

It does not appear that a similar comprehensive response gap analysis has been conducted for the Arctic.72 However, the Shell C-Plan notes that temperature alone would be a significant limitation. All non-emergency work stops when temperatures reach below -45 degrees Fahrenheit. This limitation would prevent response 50% of the time in the month of January and 64% of the time in the month of March.73

Locating the Oil

caption Chris Polashenski of Dartmouth College (left) and Benny Hopson from the Barrow (Alaska) Arctic Science Consortium bore a hole through sea ice in the Chukchi Sea on July 4. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

One of the main challenges for oil spill responders in Arctic waters is the problem of locating oil. Oil spilled into broken ice will tend to move with the ice.74 Oil is also more difficult to locate if it moves under ice floes or becomes encapsulated into surrounding ice. Visual observations are not an adequate means of detection, as the oil is generally hidden from view beneath the ice. In 2009, then-MMS published a report entitled “Arctic Oil Spill Response Research and Development Program: A Decade of Achievement.”75 This paper chronicles issues and advances in oil spill response in the icy Arctic environment. In the paper, MMS noted that the “ability to reliably detect and map oil trapped in, under, on, or among ice is critical to mounting [an] effective response in Arctic water.”76

The existing method for locating oil in or under ice involves drilling holes in a grid through the ice to detect oil underneath. This method is expensive, dangerous, and not always possible based on ice conditions. MMS has conducted several research studies aimed at evaluating potential solutions to this problem. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is the only technology viewed as having potential.77 GPR units can be used by personnel walking on the ice or can be mounted on helicopters flying over the ice at a very low altitude.78 According to MMS’s GPR laboratory and field-testing, the technology can detect oil slicks that are at least two centimeters (approximately one inch) thick in or under one to three feet of ice when used from a helicopter and up to seven feet of ice when a hand-held unit is used.

Though GPR represents an advance over the drilling method, many factors limit its usefulness. MMS’s field test report acknowledges that “[d]etection of oil under ice through multi-year ice or rafted/ridged first-year ice might be difficult or impossible.”79 Other types of rough or pocketed ice will pose similar difficulties. Additionally, though oil slicks may tend to be thicker in the Arctic environment than in other places as a result of the cold temperatures, the oil is still likely to spread out, making the ability to detect only slicks that are more than two centimeters thick a serious limitation. Though researchers indicate that the technology has promise, the responder may still need to start out with a basic sense of where the oil is in order for GPR to be of use.

The Shell C-Plan acknowledges that tracking a spill through ice might be necessary. Shell indicates that it could track the oil with drift buoys, radar reflectors, flags, GPR, and laser fluorosensors.80 In the section on planning for a release in winter pack ice, the Shell C-Plan states that “[p]romising results of tests with Ground Penetrating Radar and other remote-sensing systems could lead to the development and refinement of detection and tracking techniques for oil that is trapped deep within a thick ice layer.” The C-Plan goes on to predict that such trapped oil could be dealt with through a “leave in place” strategy, discussed below.81 It does not appear that MMS had any comment on this aspect of the plan when the agency approved the C-Plan.82

End Notes

1 This working paper does not address all issues related to Arctic drilling in which the Commission may be interested. For example, the paper does not address the evaluation of spill impacts, the potential non-oil spill impacts of oil and gas development in the Arctic, or the role of environmental regulatory review under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and other federal laws (or their Alaska state counterparts).


3 J.D. Hall, Oooguruk Project Offshore Alaska, OFFSHORE (Aug. 1, 2008)


5 Online Public Notice, State of Alaska, North Slope Borough: Shell Offshore Inc. 2010 Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan (Nov. 25, 2009).

6 Peter K. Velez, Upstream Emergency Response Manager, Shell International Exploration and Production B.V., Presentation to Commission staff (Sept. 16, 2010).

7 The Macondo wellhead lay below about 5,000 feet of water; the proposed exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea would be at depth of about 150 feet. Shell believes, based on the testing it has already done, that the pressures in the Chukchi Sea would be two to three times less than they were in the Macondo well. Letter from Marvin E. Odum, President, Shell Oil Company to S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, Minerals Management Service (May 14, 2010).

8 Some of the shoreline and human use issues of Gulf of Mexico and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas will be discussed in later Commission work on the potential impacts of a spill.


10 Id. at 2-26.

11 Id. at 2-35.

12 MMS is now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE).


14 Fact Sheet, U.S. Geological Survey, Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle (2008).

15 Shell Beaufort and Chukchi Sea, Program Update, Presentation to National Commission Staff, in Washington D.C. (Sept. 17, 2010); Questions and Answers: The Next Five-Year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program (2012-2017).


17 See, e.g., Press Release, National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic Sea Ice Shatters All Previous Record Lows (Oct. 1, 2007); Walter Meier, Julienne Stroeve, and Florence Fetterer, Whither Arctic sea ice? A clear signal of decline regionally, seasonally and extending beyond the satellite record, 46 ANNALS OF GLACIOLOGY 433 (2007): (predicting 2035-2106); Julienne Stroeve, Marika Holland, Walt Meier, Ted Scambos, and Mark Serreze, Arctic Sea Ice Decline: Faster than Forecast, 34 GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS 5 L09501 (2007) (predicting 2050-2100).

18 Kim Murphy, Salazar says Arctic Drilling Must Wait Until More is Known About Potential Pitfalls, LOS ANGELES TIMES (Sept. 4, 2010).

19 Alaska v. Salazar, No. 3:10-cv-00205 (D. Alaska filed Sept. 9, 2010).

20 Margaret Cronin Fisk, Alaska Claims in Suit U.S. Government Improperly Banned Off-Coast Drilling, BLOOMBERG ( Sept. 10, 2010).

21 Dan Joling, Alaska rips feds over suspension of Arctic drilling, ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS (Sept. 10, 2010).

22 Hall, Oooguruk Project Offshore Alaska.

23 Alan Bailey, More leases Dropped, 15 PETROLEUM NEWS (Aug. 15, 2010).

24 Letter from Sean Parnell, Governor of Alaska, to Michael Bromwich, Director, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement 5 (Aug. 25, 2010).

25 Jim Efstathiou Jr., BP’s Liberty Oil Well in Alaska to Face New Safety Rules, BLOOMBERG, June 24, 2010.

26 MMS, Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2010-2015 (January 2009) [hereinafter MMS 2009 Proposal] (on file with Commission).

27 Letter from Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, to S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, Director, Minerals Management Service 5-12 (Sept. 21, 2009) [hereinafter NOAA 2009 Comments] (detailing NOAA’s comments on the U.S. Department of the Interior/Minerals Management Service Draft Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing program for 2010-2015) (on file with Commission).

28 BOEMRE, Introduction—5-Year Program.

29 Kristen Nelson, Chukchi High Five, 13 PETROLEUM NEWS (Feb. 10, 2008).

30 Native Village of Point Hope v. Salazar, 2010 WL 2943120 (D. Alaska July 21, 2010).

31 Yereth Rosen, Shell, Statoil get OK to do Chukchi Oil Surveys, REUTERS (Aug. 6, 2010).

32 Nelson, Petroleum High Five.

33 43 U.S.C. §§ 1334(c), 1337(b)(2).

34 Shell Presentation to National Commission.

35 NOAA 2009 Comments, at 5.

36 This section is a general introduction to spill planning in Alaska and is not meant as a comprehensive evaluation of planning requirements. Commission staff intends to provide further evaluation of spill planning requirements in general, and in the Arctic in specific, in a later working paper.

37 30 C.F.R. § 254.23.

38 33 C.F.R. § 254.21 (requiring an emergency response plan with appendices); 33 C.F.R. § 254.2 (setting out requirements for the worst-case discharge appendix).

39 30 C.F.R. § 254.6.

40 ALASKA ADMIN. CODE 18 § 75.425(e)(1)(I).

41 The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC) was formerly a part of the Department of Natural Resources, but is now a quasi-judicial agency within the executive branch. See Letter from Parnell to Bromwich (urging BOEMRE to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling in Alaska waters).

42 The review team is made up of the AOGCC’s petroleum engineer commissioner, a petroleum engineer; the chairman of the AOGCC, a geologist; and a public appointee with oil and gas experience. That Commission will also hold hearings after this Commission releases its report. “At this hearing, public testimony will be received and the Commission will examine relevant issues in light of the findings and conclusions of the National Commission.” See Order by Daniel T. Seamount, Jr., Chair, Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Notice of Inquiry by the State of Alaska (June 24, 2010), (indicating that a public hearing on the review will be noticed thirty days after this Commission issues its report).

43 Id.

44 Tim Bradner, Alaska’s Oil Regulators Work to Ensure the Industry is Responsible, ALASKA J. COMMERCE (July 16, 2010).

45 The Macondo well was similarly in the exploratory drilling phase.

46 30 C.F.R. § 254.26(d).

47 30 C.F.R. § 254.47(b).

48 ALASKA ADMIN. CODE 18 § 75.434.


50 Id. at 1-23

51 Id. at 4-3.

52 Id.

53 Id.

54 Shell, Presentation to Commission staff, in Washington D.C. (Sept. 16, 2010).


56 SHELL C-PLAN at 1-22.

57 Id. at 1-26.

58 Letter from Jeffrey Walker, Regional Supervisor, Field Operations, MMS, to Susan Childs, Shell Offshore Inc. (Dec. 7, 2009) [hereinafter EP Letter] (conditionally approving Shell’s 2010 exploration drilling program and noting that response to the contingency plan would follow separately).

59 30 C.F.R. § 250.220.

60 EP Letter at 3.

61 Shell, Presentation to Commission Staff, in Washington D.C. (Sept. 16, 2010).


63 Letter from Jeffrey Walker, Field Operations, MMS, to Susan Childs, Shell Offshore Inc. (Dec. 18, 2009), (conditionally approving the Shell C-Plan).

64 SHELL C-PLAN at 1-13.


66 Charles W. Schmidt, Cold Hard Cache: The Arctic Drilling Controversy, 118 ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES A394 (2010).


68 Luc Rainville and Rebecca A. Woodgate, Observations of internal wave generation in the seasonally ice-free Arctic, 36 GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS L23604 (Dec. 2, 2009).


70 Id. at 41.

71Id. at 52.

72 See, e.g., Response Gap, OCEANS NORTH U.S. (noting the potential value of a response gap analysis).

73 SHELL C-PLAN, at 3-20.



76 Id. at 11.

77 Id.


79 Svalbard 2006.

80 SHELL C-PLAN, at 1-27.

81 Id. at 3-27.

82 See MINERALS MANAGEMENT SERVICE OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON SHELL’S OCS CHUKCHI SEA EXPLORATION PLAN; Press Release, Minerals Management Service, Salazar Conditionally Approves Shell’s Exploration Plan for Certain Chukchi Sea Leases (Dec. 7, 2009).



(2011). The challenges of oil spill response in the Arctic. Retrieved from


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