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Arctic drilling operations like the one above are targeted at increasing American oil reserves. (Damon Winter / The New York Times)

A Freeze on Arctic Drilling?

Shell suspends the search for oil off the coast of Alaska

By Sara Goudarzi | March 11 , 2013
<p> Shell had been planning to drill for oil in both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. (Jim McMahon)</p>

Shell had been planning to drill for oil in both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. (Jim McMahon)

Royal Dutch Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, recently announced it would halt drilling in the Arctic Ocean in 2013 because of a series of problems.

Shell began drilling off the northern coast of Alaska in 2012, looking for oil under the ocean floor. Geologists believe more than a fifth of the world’s oil supply is locked within the Arctic seafloor.

The company has experienced harsh weather conditions and equipment failures: Last summer, a drill ship drifted out of control. A couple of months later, equipment used to contain spills was ruined during a test. Fire broke out aboard a ship, and strong Arctic winds tore away a piece of drilling equipment. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard found more than a dozen safety and environmental violations, according to the Associated Press.

All these setbacks forced Shell to temporarily halt the search for oil in the north. The U.S. government is now reviewing the company’s Arctic drilling program to ensure the operation is safe and follows the government’s rules.

“We will assess Shell’s performance in the Arctic’s challenging environment,” said Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

ENVIRONMENTAL RESPONSE

Drilling in the Arctic is part of America’s efforts to make sure the country has enough energy for the future. The Obama administration is looking for new energy sources, from gas and oil to wind and solar energy. So the U.S. government approved Shell’s plan to search for oil in the north last year.

But environmental activists are concerned about the safety of offshore drilling. They believe that an accident, such as a spill, could devastate the area’s fragile ecosystem—the system of interactions between living and nonliving things.

“If the top oil company in the world has failed in its quest to drill in the harsh and unpredictable conditions in the Arctic,” says Cindy Shogan, director of the Alaska Wilderness League, “it is time to assess whether any oil company can safely drill in the Arctic Ocean.”

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