Alarm at plans for first Arctic oil drilling

By staff writers
August 24, 2010

Environmental commentators have reacted with alarm to the news that Cairn Energy has made the first discovery of oil in Arctic waters. Greenpeace have warned of the danger of an “Arctic oil rush”.

Cairn Energy, based in Edinburgh, made the announcement this morning (24 August), although rumours have been circulating for several days.

The Greenpeace protest ship Esperanza has arrived at the scene of the find yesterday. It is reported to be positioned within sight of the two rigs that Cairn is operating in the area.

Cairn Chief Executive Bill Gammell said, "I am encouraged that we have early indications of a working hydrocarbon system with our first well in Greenland, confirming our belief in the exploration potential”.

But Greenpeace activist Leila Deen described the report as “grave news”.

Speaking from the Esperanza, she said “An oil strike off the coast of Greenland would spark an Arctic oil rush, threatening this fragile environment and our chances of beating climate change”.

The area to the west of Disko Island, where the find was made, is known as “Iceberg Alley” due to the plentiful icebergs and tough conditions. This has deterred oil companies from attempting exploration there in recent years, but the world's oil giants are watching the Cairn project with great interest.

If the Edinburgh-based company has struck oil, analysts expect a new Arctic oil rush, with Exxon, Chevron and other energy giants already buying up licenses to drill in the area and making preparations to move in.

The wells being drilled by Cairn are at a depth of 300-500 metres, while the moratorium introduced by US President Barak Obama after the Deepwater Horizon disaster applies to wells deeper than 152 metres.

Greenpeace says that Cairn has refused to publish a comprehensive plan for how it would deal with a spill from the platform, and has just 14 vessels capable of reacting to a spill. BP's response in the Gulf of Mexico required more than 6,500 vessels.

The environmental NGO adds that a blowout in a scenario where a relief well cannot be completed in the same drilling season could lead to oil gushing until at least next spring, with spilt oil becoming trapped under sheets of thick ice.

"By drilling for oil in ever more dangerous, difficult-to-reach places the oil companies are taking us in the wrong direction,” insisted Deen, “If a spill happened here this pristine area would face an environmental catastrophe. The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico showed what can happen when they drill in deep and remote places."

She insisted, “We have to go beyond oil by investing in clean technologies and deploying them as soon as possible”.

Cairn Energy's headquarters were yesterday targeted by activists from the Camp for Climate Action, who staged an imitation “oil spill” outside the company's offices as one of a series of peaceful protests in Edinburgh.


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