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Ice-Breaking: U.S. Oil Drilling Starts as Nations Mull Changed Arctic

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  • Marilyn Heiman

    Marilyn Heiman

    Director, U.S. Arctic

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National Geographic


Joel K. Bourne Jr.

On August 27, after a scorching summer of record-breaking drought and heat across the U.S., scientists reported that summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean had shrunk to its lowest extent in recorded history—worrisome news to those concerned about polar bears or eroding Inupiat villages or other impacts of climate change.

Shell's Slaiby said his company could effectively clean up an oil spill in the Arctic with heated booms and in situ burning. The efficacy of those methods, however, remains in doubt in the minds of many, including U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, who served as the federal coordinator for the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "I would never be confident [we could handle a major spill]," Zukunft said. "You'll never get all the oil. It's just not feasible. But that's the expectation here."

That sentiment was echoed by Marilyn Heiman, director of the U.S. Arctic Program for the Pew Environmental Group. "We need the safest standards in the world," Heiman said. "It's one of the most dangerous places to operate on the planet and we have no proven methods for cleaning up oil spills in ice. Try using a skimmer in slush ice. It just doesn't work. In fall you have really extreme weather, it's dark all day, and the seas can get 20 feet. There are many days when [oil spill] response is just not possible. Pew is not opposed to drilling. But we've got a lot to do to figure out how to do it safely."


Read the full article, Ice-Breaking: U.S. Oil Drilling Starts as Nations Mull Changed Arctic, on the National Geographic website.


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