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Shell Drilling Rigs Ready to Leave for Chukchi Sea — Greenpeace is Watching

By Dan Fiorucci Channel 2 News6:05 p.m. AKDT, June 2, 2012

Seattle, Washington—

Rival Vessels are both sitting in the Port of Seattle tonight (Saturday).

And both are on the verge of an historic mission.

The first of those vessels consists of  2 unique drilling rigs — refurbished by Shell Oil.

They are the Kuluk and the Noble Disocverer. If all goes as planned, then both vessels will enter the Chukchi Sea next month. They will beome the first rigs in more than 2 decades to conduct exploratory drilling there.

So much oil is thought to be trapped beneath the seabed of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, that it’s hoped that within the next decade or 2, it will add a million barrels a day to the flow of the Trans Alaska Pipeline.

The other vessel — which is determined to rewrite science, if not history, is the Greanpeace Ship, Esperanza.

It’s carrying 2 scientific research submarines. It’s goal is to study the Chukchi — even as shell’s drilling there gets underway.

Greenpeace contends there is not enough baseline data in arctic seas. It is determined to record that data before those seas are fully drilled.

The environmental organization’s concern is that much could be lost by what it calls the “industrialization of the Arctic”.

This summer, that industrialization footprint will be substantial — but still relatively small. Two drilling rigs — and perhaps 20 support vessels — will arrive in the Chukchi on or around July 1st.

There job is to search for oil. Geologic Surveys indicate that the Chukchi and Beautfort seas are rich in oil and natural gas.

Shell says that exploratory drilling in the arctic can be done safely. But Greenpeace disagrees.

Scientists there say that Shell’s safety precautions — and spill response plans — are inadequate.

The Company says that it’s drilling plan was proved by the president, and is safe and responsible.

The worries center on a possible blowout in the Chukchi — which some say could be more difficult to contain than the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico 2 years ago.

According to Greenpeace, there are only 20 response vessels available if there’s a blowout in the Chukchi. in the Gulf of Mexico there were thousands.

Shell says there is no comparison between to two drilling sites. According to shell, the drilling site in the Chukchi is shallow. The Gulf was deep.

In the Gulf of Mexico, BP was drilling at a depth of 5,000 feet, in the Arctic, Shell will be drilling in only 150 feet of water. Therefore oil leaks cannot balloon outwards, the way they did in th Gulf.

In addition, shell recovery vessels will be stationed less than an hour away.

Greenpeace says there could be a risk of deep sea “scouring”. Environmentalists claim that large icebergs — bumping up and down in the frigid waters. They say that if these massive icebergs strike a piece of drilling equipment — like a wellhead — it could trigger a disaster.

Shell says it’s studied that risk, and that the well will be placed in an area where there is no record of scouring. It also says that it will have blowout preventers in place.

Greenpeace is also worried about whales. Narwhals and Gray Whales migrate through here, and Greenpeace worried that the acoustic signature — the noise made by the rigs — could interfere with the animals.

Shell says it’s spent tens of millions of dollars on acoustic studies of rig-noise on marine life, and has found that it’s minimal.

Whatever the case, Federal Courts have approved Shell’s right to drill, and the oil company intends to start in July.

Greenpeace plans to arrive in the Chukchi too — watching and studying.

Copyright © 2012, KTUU-TV

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