Thursday, May 27, 2010

Be very, very careful about drilling in the Beaufort Sea

News that Plan Number 17 (or whatever we're up to) to stop the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may finally be starting to work is welcome but it's worth pointing out that this disaster, significant as it is and damaging to fisheries and tourism for quite some time to come, happened in a subtropical climate.   Remember Sarah Palin and her "Drill Baby Drill" chant during the 2008 election?   Looks pretty bad now, especially considering she was still in university (on a basketball varsity scholarship) when the 1989 Valdez disaster happened in her home state, when the Arctic winter was just ending.

This naturally brings up the issue of what to do with the vast reserves of oil and natural gas in the Beaufort Sea.    We know that approval of the Mackenzie Pipeline, considered at least since the 1970s, is almost a given now that most of the land claims in the NWT have been settled.   One potential hangup is the still undemaracted sea border between the Yukon and Alaska -- Canada claims it should continue due north from the land border along the West 141st Meridian while the States claims it should be up to the 200 mile limit of the western coast of the Arctic Islands.

But setting that aside the real problem is the fact the continental shelf in the Beaufort drops quite suddenly just a few knots off shore, and during the winter months it is pitch black.   We know how hard it was to find the leak off Lousiana -- but at least there was some light on the way down.   Imagine a blowout a mile down, in February, when it's 50 below.

Certainly we need to become less dependent on OPEC oil and gas -- we still import quite a bit from Venezuela.    And the less dependent the territories become from Ottawa the better.

But if we are going to permit drilling in the final frontier, we'd better know what we are doing and make sure that disasters like the one down South are prosecuted stiffly, including the cleanup costs.    Otherwise, the Great White North will become the Black and Blue North in no time flat.

I'm just worried about the rush to start drilling ... I realize it's been talked about for decades but would another year or two to make absolutely sure really hurt all that much?

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