US not ready to respond to Arctic oil spills: Coast Guard chief
Washington (Platts)--27Jul2011/347 pm EDT/1947 GMT
The top officer of the US Coast Guard said Wednesday that the government
is not prepared to respond to an oil spill in Arctic waters if a drilling
company fails to control its own well.
Admiral Robert Papp, the agency's commandant, told the Senate Committee
on Commerce, Science and Transportation that the government had plenty of
resources stationed near the Gulf of Mexico last year and could quickly
dispatch communication systems, helicopters and other equipment to BP's
runaway Macondo well.
"If this were to happen off the North Slope of Alaska, we'd have
nothing," said Admiral Robert Papp, the agency's commandant. "We're starting
from ground zero today."
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Shell has applied for permits to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort
and Chukchi Seas next summer. The seafloor sits under 120 to 140 feet of
water, compared with Macondo that sat below more than 5,000 feet of water.
Vice President Peter Slaiby told the Senate committee that Shell would
beat the federal requirement for deploying response vessels within an hour of
"Shell would not be working in the Arctic had we believed there was
something, an event we could not control," he said. "We simply would not be
there. I believe we have the best oil-spill response plan anywhere in the
Slaiby said crews would install two sets of shearing rams in blowout
preventers and inspect the devices weekly. Because of the shallower depths,
he said, divers could respond to problems on the seafloor in addition to
remotely operated vehicles.
Papp said drillers have the lead role in responding to accidents, as BP
did after Macondo, but the government must get ready to support them.
"Although private industry may assert they're adequately prepared to
respond to a spill, we must also determine what response capability our Coast
Guard and nation needs so we can mount an adequate response as exploration
advances towards production," he said.
The remoteness of the Arctic would pose other major challenges for oil
spill responders, Papp said.
"One of the things that we learned from Deepwater Horizon is if you
don't think through what is the worst-possible case, it's difficult for you
to plan on how much equipment you'll need," he said. "We had to turn on the
oil boom manufacturers around the world to supply us. We had to employ
thousands of fishing boats to go out there and do skimming operations.
"None of that exists up on the North Slope. We have zero to operate with
at present, so now's the time to start thinking that through."
Senator Mark Begich, Democrat-Alaska, said Shell and other drillers
would not get permits to start exploration unless the US Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement deemed their spill-response
Papp agreed and said the Coast Guard was working with BOEM to ensure
that those plans measure up to the potential risks.
"We will be joined at the hip as we approach these new drilling options
up in the Arctic," he said.
--Meghan Gordon, email@example.com