Black Ice Is Never A Good Thing…

The recent oil spill by Shell off Nigeria’s coast briefly brought to light the some of the most insidious consequences of the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.

As our thirst for oil grows, companies are stretching the limits of depth and technology to drill wherever and however. Shell has recently received conditional approval to begin exploratory drilling in one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive and valuable ecosystems – the Arctic Ocean. Drilling will begin this summer in northern Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, leading many to wonder if this is such a good idea.

What would happen if Shell caused a spill, like last month’s event in Nigeria, in the waters of Alaska hundreds of miles away from any Coast Guard station or port? We superimposed the resulting 350-square-mile Nigeria oil slick on the Chukchi Sea in the area where Shell will be drilling:

Hypothetical 350 square-mile slick originating from a Shell lease block in the Chukchi Sea

How soon would a spill of this size reach the nearby coastline only 30 miles away? What about the effect on local fisheries and native infrastructure? How effectively could a spill like this be contained and cleaned up in icy, treacherous conditions? Shell touts emergency preparedness as key to mitigating any possible spillage, but the notoriously harsh Arctic environment raises many concerns about our ability to safely produce and transport oil in this region.