According to retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen and former Alaskan Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer the United States is woefully unprepared to deal with a major oil leak off Alaska’s Northern Coast. Allen, who led the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, reported that only one of the three Coast Guard icebreakers is available to respond to a disaster in the area which is ice bound most of the year. Ulmer stated that before the US can consider drilling in the region it must “invest in the Coast Guard.”
Both Allen and Ulmer are concerned that the tiny town of Barrow, the closest to the proposed drilling sites as well as current rigs, is not able to accommodate cleanup crews or even rescuers. 11 rig workers died when the BP oil rig exploded and hundreds of clean-up workers, investigators, and advisors arrived in Louisiana after the spill. Currently, Barrow has no hanger for a fixed wing aircraft, no de-icing facilities, and barely enough beds to accommodate 30 out of towners. Couple all these difficulties with extreme weather, ice floes, and the closest Coast Guard base being hundreds of miles away and you have the potential for an unimaginable environmental disaster.
Funding for new icebreakers or the expansion of the Barrow airport is not likely to come from the cost cutting Republicans who gained control of the House of Representatives, but they are also “likely to push for more drilling off Alaska’s coast.” “The oil spill panel that Ulmer sat on blamed the accident on "systemic" failures in oil industry safety practices and weak enforcement of safety rules and warned that without reform a disaster like that in the Gulf of Mexico might happen again.”
Offering a bit of relief to the anxiety surrounding a possible northern disaster Shell Oil scrapped plans to start drilling in the frozen region this year. The Houston Chronicle reported, “Shell CEO Peter Voser confirmed the work will now be postponed until at least 2012, as the company works to obtain necessary environmental permits and convince federal regulators it is prepared to contain an out of control well in remote, icy waters.”
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