The U.S. Coast Guard is awaiting permission from the Environmental Protection Agency before including chemical dispersants among the tools to respond to any oil spills once Royal Dutch Shell Plc begins drilling in Arctic waters.
Admiral Robert Papp, the Coast Guard commandant, said EPA approval is necessary before his agency can use the dispersants. He said he’s not convinced the technology will be as successful in limiting damage from any potential spill in Arctic waters, as it was in the warmer Gulf of Mexico after the BP Plc disaster two years ago.
“I’m not confident what it will do in the colder water up in Alaska,” Papp said in an interview during a Bloomberg Government breakfast July 13 in Washington.
Shell’s rigs are on their way to the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, where the company plans to tap fields estimated to hold more than 20 billion barrels of oil. Drilling may start as early as next month.
The company spent $4.5 billion acquiring drilling rights in the Arctic seas and meeting safety requirements set by the Obama administration after the explosion at BP’s Macondo well in 2010. They include the installation of a cap and containment system similar to the one that eventually plugged the BP gusher, after 4.9 million barrels of oil fouled Gulf waters.
Shell, based in The Hague, has dispersants in its response plan. Environmental groups say the technology is unproven.
Papp said he’s “confident” in Shell’s ability to respond to any spill, especially in waters off the Alaskan coast that are less than 200 feet deep. The BP spill in the Gulf was at a depth of nearly a mile.
Both the U.S. Interior Department and the SINTEF Group, a Trondheim, Norway-based research organization, have tested chemical dispersants and found them to be effective, Kelly op de Weegh, a Shell spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. Environmental groups such as Oceana oppose Shell’s plan, saying more research on dispersants is needed before drilling begins.
Oceana criticized the use of dispersants during the BP spill, saying that the chemicals helped spread oil in the deep waters and caused a toxic response to the crude from plankton and other organisms.