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Topic 17: Should Arctic drilling activities be halted until the Safety and Technology are improved?

Lee Soo Chyi's picture

Arctic drilling has
been happening since the 1920s, but it become much more contentious as BP’s
Deepwater Horizon spill in the GOM dominates the headlines while firms were
scrambling to expand production in the far North.

Recently, Shell
abandoned drilling in Arctic for the winter due to a huge containment dome
designed to corral spill broke down under trials. An Arctic expert said: “if
they can’t cap the blowout off, or drill a relief well before the winter, the
blowout will operate right through the winter months, with oil and gas coming
up under the ice.” Arctic oil and gas drilling amid concerns that oil spill
response techniques may not work effectively in the Arctic.

Safe environment
practices is one of the top priorities of the Arctic Council, an advisory group
of eight nations- the USA, Canada, Russia, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and
Denmark. The council shares standards, experiences and technology. Oil and gas
exploration in the Arctic should not move forward until regulatory regimes are in place in all Arctic countries that would
impose highest available environmental standards, and require the best
available and safest technology to be used. A “As Low
As Possible”
risk standard shall be developed.


Soo Chyi, Lee 


RossWinter's picture

Drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic is a very questionable practice. Recently the European governments’ industry panel rejected a ban on all arctic drilling despite the environmental panel voting the other way. They have put strict conditions that regulate the planning of the projects and the environmental impacts that they can cause. The conditions in the arctic would prove very problematic to the construction workers and the production crew once the rigs went on line. The arctic is a very inhospitable place and over winter there is nearly constant darkness. The rigs and the workers based there would have to be able to withstand very low temperatures and unpredictable weather. Also during the summer the ice flows can damage the equipment, this has already proven to be a major problem as Shell have delayed their plans to drill into the hydrocarbon reserves until next summer.Ross Winter Msc Renewable Energy

Menelaos Michelakis's picture

(Adding comment to Lee Soo Chyi)

Being a mineral resources engineer, i had in my previous university courses such as rock mechanics, soil mechanics, drilling engineering, drilling and blasting, as well as others closely related with these. I have also worked in a drilling company for many months, doing water boreholes and shallow land boreholes. All these, knowledge and experience, combined with the fact that colossal companies such as BP, can have the best drilling machines, the best drilling bits and also some of the best engineers and drilling crews, certify sucess.

Studies by engineers and geologists will be completed in prior. Drilling safety and technology have been improved significantly during the last decade and although we cannot be sure 100%, in prior about sucess, the borehole companies will proceed if there are great profits.

Capitalism is not something logic. We have Macdonalds in Crete, and the same chain of burger shops also exists in Scotland. Is this logic ? Who is hidding behind this colossal company and rules the world with his burgers ? Macdonald burgers are just an example. Another example follows : Let's estimate a failure probability of 20%. Although 20% is not a small percentage, if the profits expected are big enough, the probability of failure will be ignored, and the company/ies will proceed.

This is not logic again, because there are big chances of failure, and if an accident happens and the environment is harmed, these companies will not be able to fully restore it. The logic concept would be the Arctic drilling activities to be haulted until safety and technology are improved so failure probabilities are reduced even more, let's say at least 5%, but this is not probable to happen.

My professor in Crete used to say (about drilling) : ''If it turns, it earns''. So the final decision will mostly have to do with the profits expected and not with safety and environmental protection.

References : 1. B.Kelesidis (2008), Drilling engineering, (TUC university notes)

2. V.Lenin , Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism

mohamed.elkiki's picture

I agree with Menelaos. companies will not stop doing something because an accident happened. We must pear in mind that technology will not reach any innovation without trying and errors. The safety and reliability regulations just are ways to protect but not to prevent or stop companies from doing something. Arctic drilling could have some risks but it also has many advantages to the company and to the industry. Even big companies like BP and Shell are very careful when dealing with any new technology because they don't want to destroy their reputation. Also, innovation cannot be limited to only big companies because some small companies try new things and they succeed and after that big companies try to buy this small companies in order to benefit from what they done. Accidents will never prevent or stop any industry and the most know example is car accidents that is all over the world and still innovation in car industry continue.

Oluwatosin A. Oyebade's picture

I quite agree with Menelaos and Mohamed, it is true that occuuence of accidents would not stop development of the Arctic, especially with the huge resource potential of the sea. According to the United States Geological Survey: There could be up to 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in the Arctic (approximately 13% of the worlds undiscovered oil reserves), 47.3 trillion cubic meters of Natural gas (30% of the world's estimated undiscovered natural gas reserves), 44 billion barrels of liquefied petroleum gas (20% of the world's estimated undiscovered LPG reserves) and 2.41 trillion cubic meters of gas could be extracted in the form of methane hyydrates. However these resources are located under the sea floor in one of the harshest environments on earth. This means that there are substantial challenges in accesing these resources and with the ever rising world demand for energy, it is foreseeable that development of these resources will occur in order to feed this demand.

Asides the personnel and environmental risks, another big problem with exploiting the resource wealth of the Arctic is the astounding costs involved. According to the USGS, at $100 per barrel, only about 2.5 billion barrels of oil could be produced off coast of Greenland and even increasing the prices to $300 per barrel would lead to production of 4.1 billion. That's with a 50% probability and before making any profit or paying any taxes. Higher prices than these would be needed for the area to offer enticing opportunities.

I am not convinved that drilling in the Arctic is a good idea, at least for now. The technical complexities of operating in such an area are numerous and it results in costs that may not be recoverable at today's prices. I strongly recommend that companies should wait until they can operate safely and still be able to turn a profit becasue Arctic offshre exploitation cannot be ignored due to its immense reserves. Then again, spending money o something that is not viable is also a foolish thing to do.


Oluwatosin Oyebade

FELIXMAIYO's picture

I would agree with



Maria Christou's picture


I also agree with my classmates
above and I believe that drilling for oil and gas in Arctic should be put on
hold until safety is improved.

The Environmental
Audit Committee believes that it is difficult and unsafe to deal with a
spill in Arctic since the weather conditions are so unpredictable.

A specialist on Arctic issues,
told BBC News: "The Arctic is
changing rapidly, primarily as a result of climate change. It is not the Arctic
of 20 years ago and it will likely be different again 20 years from now…The
Government therefore welcomes the useful and timely Environmental Audit
Committee's report into protecting the Arctic that explored many of the
challenges and opportunities facing the Arctic.”

On the other hand, The European parliament's industry committee
opposes to this decision and proposes a new directive in order to ensure
companies have “adequate financial security” to cover the damages in case of an
accident. Plus, companies that wish to drill in Arctic would have to give a
report about safety hazard and emergency response to national authorities.

To my mind, a further research
needs to be made before they start drilling in Arctic again. We cannot afford
more disasters, more deaths and more pollution.



BBC News Science and Environment



Toby Stephen's picture

I think M.Michelakis hit the nail on the head - the bottom line is that global giants like BP, who have been extremely successful over sustained periods of time, wouldn't have been able to do so unless they were at the forefront of technology and innovation. I agree with Lee Soo Chyi that the "highest available" environmental standards and "lowest possible" risk standards should be developed and stringently adhered to but at the end of the day, if there is potential to unlock 1/5th of the world's oil reserves (as noted by Felix Maiyo), then it will go ahead regardless. 

The oil industry has undeniable political power and will find a way to get it done, whether or not it is in the best interest of society is another question, but clearly drilling in the Arctic is a supply side issue and is indicative of society's dependance on oil and gas.   


Toby Stephen
MSc Oil & Gas Engineering

Lee Soo Chyi's picture

it is safe to drill or not, there is no doubt the Arctic Ocean will be drilled
due its high economic value.

the lead-up to the US election, the future of American offshore oil and gas
policy has becomes one of the hottest debate issue. Supporters predict that
drilling for oil off the Alaska Coast could save the struggling US economy,
provides thousands of jobs and increase domestic oil and gas production.
Although more than a million people sending President Obama a message asking
him to forbid drilling in the Arctic, but still USA has issued drilling licence
to Shell. Once again it shows that the hidden potential economy values are so irresistible
despite drilling in this fragile eco-system brings with it the risk of
destroying the habitat, marine life, environment, etc. The economic benefits
are simply too abundant, especially as the environmental factors are deemed manageable.

the government has made a promise that they will take a cautious approach,
allowing time for research and planning. A more stringent oil spill response plan,
safety requirements and emergency response plans are required to be established
by Company and approved by government.



Soo Chyi, Lee

Ryan Grekowicz's picture

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart because I worked in the Arctic for 5 years in Alaska.  Just to provide some background information and assist folks in future posts, I wanted to point out that you need to be a little more specific about what you are referencing when discussing "Drilling in the Arctic".  This is because I've seen three different types of drilling in the Arctic, and each one has a very different risk profile:

1.  Onshore drilling.  When discussing drilling in the Arctic, all that refers to is drilling above the arctic circle.  A great deal of the drilling is actually onshore, where a blowout would be more easily contained than if you were offshore.  In my opinion, onshore drilling in the arctic is a very ideal place to drill.  It is remote, very few people will ever travel there and very few people live there because for most of the year it's a frozen barren land, if there is a spill it is easily contained as long as the proper equipment is available.  The actual drilling operations would impact a very small percent of the overall land.  There has been an ongoing political battle in the United States for years regarding drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and I think a huge reason for it is because the name induces images of a pristine beautiful place full of wildlife, and people automatically think that drilling there would have a huge negative impact, when that isn't necessarily true.

 2.  Offshore drilling from a manmade island.  Majority of the offshore drilling in Alaska's arctic water has been from manmade islands, in order to protect from the ice flows.  Just do a google search for photos of "BP's Northstar Island".  In many locations, the waters in the arctic are only 30-40 feet deep, so it is possible to construct an island fully equipped with quarters and processing facilities.  This approach significantly mitigates several of the risks associated with offshore arctic drilling.

3.  Drilling from a drillship.  This definitely needs to be looked at closely to ensure that they could contain a potential blowout, but you have to be careful comparing this to the BP Macondo blowout because of the shallow water depths.  Containing a blowout would be easier, but of course you have to take the ice into account. 

Mark Nicol's picture

As mentioned previously drilling in the Arctic is nothing new.
Shell started geological investigations in 1918 [ref 1]. Reference 1 below
shows the timeline for Shell working in the Arctic from 1918 – 2008. An
interesting read from 1963 – 1970. In 1963 Shell started drilling offshore at
the Cook Inlet. This was the first offshore drilling in Alaska. Even more
interesting is the quote from the Alaska Division Production Manager at that

Cook Inlet experiences 30-foot tides, and tidal currents of up to
eight knots that change directions every six hours.  Such conditions are bad enough for
conventional mariners, but when the mariners also have to drill, the conditions
are "the most difficult in the world" (R.R. Robison, Shell’s Alaska
Division Production Manager)

In 1964 there was an earthquake that measured 9.2. In that same
year, Shell installed the first production platform. This was the first of 16
and by 1970 the Cook Inlet was producing 225,000 barrels of oil per day.



Mark Nicol's picture

As Soo Chyi mentioned in a previous blog, it’s inevitable that drilling will continue due to the potential energy that can be generated and also the potential money that can be generated for the mayor’s and the tax revenue for the United States government. Also according to reference 1 the Arctic states are under pressure to cash in on the oil and gas bonanza.

I don’t know if anybody has heard that Shell have suspended drilling in the Arctic until next year due to the failure during the testing of the containment dome. From what I’ve read [ref 2] the containment dome gets lowered over a well in the event that it is damaged. This is the fourth line of defence in the event of a blowout.

First line of defence is the traditional method to kill the well with heavy drilling mud, secondly the already established blowout preventer, now we look at the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon, as the third line of defence is a capping stack [ref 4] that was used to kill the Horizon and lastly there is the containment dome that is being designed by Shell as the new line of defence.

If we go back to the original question of should drilling be banned in the Arctic, the answer is probably yes, as the safety technology is in its infancy, as can be seen from Shell’s containment dome. However we are learning lessons from previous disasters as in the Deepwater Horizon and also thinking out of the box to design new safety technologies to prevent future disasters.

So to conclude if we can’t stop it from happening, at least we can prevent it from happening. 






Frixos Karletides's picture

In July 2012, Shell company that was drilling Arctic
Ocean, had one of its drilling rig nearly ran ashore. The next month another
drilling rig was almost hit by a giant ice that was floating on the surface of
ocean and was nearly as big as many times the size of Manhattan. For these
reasons it rescheduled its operation for next summer. According to this example
the extraction of oil in Arctic Ocean is very complicated due to extreme
weather conditions and all works must be stopped.  The Interior Department needs to make sure
that companies working in Arctic Ice are equipped to handle dangerous weather
conditions and large pieces of floating ice. These aspects account for Safety
legislation in drilling. Also drilling activities must be halted due to the
fact that recent drilling equipment can cause a temperature rise in nearby
locations. This can result to unsolicited environmental conditions like melting
of ice, greater erosion and a big influence in the ecosystem.

Frixos Karletides

sreehariprabhu's picture

I too would agree that the Arctic drilling should be put on hold until the safety measures improve. The conditions we see in Arctic will be completely different and new. So a more detailed study on the environment, climate etc should be carried out. Exploration and production drilling in the Arctic is challenging due to
the long distance to the existing infrastructure, 24-hour darkness and
low temperatures. Arctic environmental conditions will have a strong influence on the
working environment and technical safety of offshore operations. Therefore, design requirements need to be considered in
order to ensure that offshore units meet the facility integrity and
operability requirements under these conditions. So it is very important to carry out a detailed study on the performance
of equipments and materials during these harsh conditions. Arctic offshore operations expose workers to cold, windy and wet
conditions. Working in a cold environment can cause several adverse
effects on human performance and health, from discomfort, strain and
decreased performance, to cold-related injuries and diseases.  Another problem is the long distance. It will be really hard to make any quick arrangements in case of emergencies. Also, we cannot allow any blowout in the Arctic since, it will be really hard to both stop and clean up. In case of a blowout, it will seriously affect the life of marine animals and this will lead to many environmental issues. So it is better to start Arctic drilling once the safety measures for all these problems are found and applied correctly.



Sreehari Ramachandra Prabhu

Aaron McKenna's picture

The issue of Arctic drilling also draws on some
points made by Professor Moan in the LRET talk this evening. He recognised all
the issues mentioned above with regards to the difficulties and dangers of moving
into the arctic. However, a point I would like to emphasise is the complications
that the conditions and darkness bring when trying to inspect a facility x number
of years/months into its operation. Professor Moan highlighted the importance
of regular inspection in order to try and spot a fault (such as a crack) before
it has catastrophic impact on the facility such as the Alexander Kielland
accident, which was a semi-submersible that capsized due to progressive fatigue
failure at a crack in one of the bracings of the legs. This crack had been
there since fabrication however inspections had failed to pick up on it. The
result was the collapse of the platform but most devastatingly the death of 123

Mark Nicol's picture

In a place as hostile as the Arctic a good IRM (inspection, maintenance and repair) programme would be essential to ensure as you mentioned, fatigue cracks to legs in platforms were detected at an early stage.

I suppose the best line of defence against this, is to use FPSO’s (floating, production, storage and offloading) vessels as you remove the platform from the equation. However saying that, there would have to be some sort of inspection programme for the vessel hull.  

One technique that would be essential is AUT (automated ultrasonic inspection). This technique uses specially adapted ROV’s to carry the UT skid. This results form the UT can then be fed back into RBI (risk based inspection) programme’s [ref 2] to prioritise inspection regimes. 

By applying such techniques there is the potential to reduce risks, possibly reduce the number and duration  of shutdowns, which would also result in increased revenue.




Ryan Grekowicz's picture

I'm pretty sure that the use of FPSO's in the arctic would not be feasible due to the shallow water depths.  There might be some locations in the arctic where FPSO's would be a good option, but for example, where Shell is drilling, the water depths are less than 100 feet, and might even be less than 50 feet.  I wasn't able to locate the exact depth online.

One method that hasn't been mentioned, which could be utilized in the future to access the offshore reservoirs is to directional drill from onshore.  This would virtually eliminate many of the risks that folks are concerned with regarding offshore drilling in the arctic.  BP recently attempted a project to access a shallow reservoir that was located about 10 miles offshore, but unfortunately the drill rig was unable to function properly, but directional drilling has reached out to about 20 miles, and this number will only increase as technology improves.  I believe that this sort of technology is also being utilized by Exxon on Russia's Sakhalin Island.

Uchenna Onyia's picture

 A lot of my colleagues have been commenting on what I feel
to be a contentious topic. We have had a similar debate during the lecture
about inability to obtain absolute health and safety.  Now I understand their fears about the
dangers of drilling in the artic and the why they feel that such activities
should be put on hold but I just want to make a few points.  First of all and as has been mentioned
before, it is impossible to achieve absolute (100%) safety.  As technology advances and new and improved
techniques are developed, we push new and unexplored frontiers and these come
with their inherent health and safety risks. 
So there is no reason to say that with new advances in technology, we
won’t have new risks posed by these technologies.  Another point I feel is important to note is,
our industry is one which is based mostly on experience.  The only way we can make arctic drilling safe
is by first drilling their first. As much as we may try to predict the
conditions we would encounter while drilling in the artic, nothing beats actual
experience.  So for us to be able to
reduce risk to as low as reasonably practicable, we need to start drilling with
our current health and safety measures and learn where our shortcomings are.  Then go and improve on those


uchenna onyia 51232632

MSc Subsea engineering 

Brenda Amanda's picture

While I agree that the economic
benefits to this venture cannot be debated, a wholesome approach needs to be
considered before a go-ahead for arctic drilling is given to more operators.

Ryan earlier clarified the
different drilling locations on the Arctic and indeed each has different techniques
of oil recovery and the risk of containing spills is different in each case and
therefore different impacts on the Arctic marine environment.

A.J Krupnick puts it this way, ‘The
probability of a spill can be lower (and the size of a spill, smaller) when
wells are in shallower water (15 to 300 feet) and the oil is under less

Maybe the restrictions should be
on how far offshore the drilling should be allowed. Shell [2] released a
statement about how ready they are to deal with any spills with their ready response
vessels but of course in this industry, nothing is certain.

[1] A.J. Krupnick, Drilling for
Oil in the Arctic: Considering Economic and Social Costs and Benefits, 2011.


Lee Soo Chyi's picture

Since drilling in
Arctic is inevitable, solid regulatory regimes shall be in place as soon as
possible. The greatest challenges are the risks of accidents, loss of life and
potentially uncontrollable oil spills. Thus, not only is effort needed to
prevent accidents from happening, but systems and ‘HUMAN’ also need to be
developed and trained to handle emergencies. Close cooperation between the
authorities, industry and society is essential.

As recommended by
lawmakers and other audit committee, the highest environmental standards
require the best and safest technology to be used for all components of drilling.
Other recommendations are:

As Low
As Possible standard should be developed.

must be able to show they have adequate funds, capacity, and ability to
response to an oil spill or any kind of accident.

must tackle the Arctic extreme climate with constant hazards from ice, cold and
darkness. Equipment and human cannot work under extreme cold situation. Well
established Winterization philosophy
shall be implemented to ensure human and essential onboard systems can operate
in freezing temperature and icing conditions. Drilling platform (structurally)
and equipment shall be designed according to Polar Class Requirement, for
example DNV Polar Class Rules and DNV –RP-209. The RP provides practical and
consistent design recommendations or fixed and floating structures in ice.

existing key industry standards to take into account the additional challenges
related to Arctic conditions

standards for working environment and safety related to human factors to ensure
the optimal safety, performance and decision making of people working in Arctic


transports that are able to perform evacuation and rescue operations in open
water and ice conditions shall be developed.


Soo Chyi, Lee

Ryan Grekowicz's picture

It was stated that drilling in the arctic is "inevitable", but in fact it is going on today.  There are numerous drill rigs operating in Northern Alaska, and they have been operating for decades.  Drilling in the arctic is nothing new, what is new is the publicity that it is receiving.  You have to be very careful using the phrase "Drilling in the Arctic", because it is a very broad topic.  The true activity which has all the concerns surrounding it is "Arctic Offshore Exploratory Drilling".  This type of drilling is done from a drillship or a semi-submersible.  The type of drilling going on today uses land based drill rigs which are either on an offshore island or are located onshore.

As a result of drilling operations going on in Alaska's arctic since the 1960's, items 3/4/5 listed above have already been addressed.  There are always improvements that can be made, but the industry has a very good grasp of the impacts of the extremely harsh environment on drilling and operating an oil field.  Regarding item 6, that has already been addressed also because there are numerous manmade islands off the north coast of Alaska which are approximately the same size as a standard FPSO or Semi, and those islands have drilling and oil production operations going on, and those islands are staffed with about 100 people.  In order to operate these facilities, there has to be an emergency evacuation procedure in place.  The procedure includes the use of boats (in the summer), helicopters, and hovercrafts (summer and winter).

Lee Soo Chyi's picture


Thanks for your
response. Yes, you are correct. I should refer to Arctic Offshore Exploratory Drilling. As recommended by you in your
previous post, I’ve read some material regarding the BP’s Northstar Project.
Although this is not the first offshore production facility in the Arctic but
she is the first that delivers oil via subsea pipeline in Arctic Alaska. Certainly,
corporation will put a lot of money and efforts in research, risk assessments, integrity
study, and conceptual design to ensure that the design is safe; fulfilling the
requirement of regulatory bodies and minimise harm to environment. Numerous
studies and test were conducted by BP in designing the Northstar production island
and the subsea pipeline to protect the environment and safely withstand the
arctic weather. Some highly innovative and successful monitoring tools were
developed to monitor the subsea pipeline and maintain its integrity. The
industry is continuing to develop new drilling and recovery techniques, a more
solid regime is in the discussion process, classification society is doing more
researches and updating the industry standard. Different parties, different
tasks, different regulations but they have the same goal, i.e. to enhance the

Soo Chyi, Lee

Omololu Oyebola's picture



The race for Oil and Gas in the artic is on, but has safety issues been well addressed? The answer is NO. The artic coast is one of the least developed coast left on our planet, and as such if anything goes wrong, the industry does not have resources to deal with the disaster.

Looming over the Shell operations is the ghost of Deepwater horizon, one of the worst environmental disaster, but as bad as it was, the conditions for responding to it were perfect. Within 500 miles of Deepwater horizon, emerging response had access to the site via airport networks, roads, seaport coast guards facilities to help clean up the spill, these resourses are simply unavailable in the artic.[1]

If spill occurs, scientist do have very liitle understanding yet on how oil reacts with the frigid arctic and how it will react with the biological species. Insurance giants Lloyds of London has warned that the artic offshore drilling “constitutes a unique and hard to manage risk” [3]

Issues such as network with other oil platform, pipeline installation access roads and support facilities also raises its ugly head against this huge reserve. The Macondo incident highlights the dangers associated with  drilling in extreme environment 

In 1998, it was estimated that the amount of crude oil and natural gas reserves in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge(ANWR) is between 5.7  - 16 bb, compared with the technically  recoverable reserves in the in the United States of about 120 bb[1]. This looks juicy and economical on the surface, but the risk associated with the exploration of reserves in the ANWR is unquantifiable. The current president of the USA, Barack Obama said "I strongly reject drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it would irreversibly damage a protected national wildlife refuge without creating sufficient oil supplies to meaningfully affect the global market price or have a discernible impact on US energy security." [2].

I also take cue with the president of USA, that drilling should be put on hold in the artic, until well proven technology is available, metocean data and study of reaction between oil and artic has been studied and also good infracstructure around this region has been put in place.




[3] Lloyds Energy; Drilling in extreme environments: Challenges and the implication for the energy insurance industry.



Ryan Grekowicz's picture

Since I've worked on the North Coast of Alaska for several years, I feel the need to comment on a couple of the points that have been made.

-  It was stated that the "industry does not have the resources to deal with the disaster".  I've been to Prudhoe Bay Alaska, which is the epicenter for arctic drilling in Alaska.  Prudhoe Bay is accessible via a road system (I can drive from my house in Texas to Prudhoe Bay) or via the airport which is capable of handling Boeing 737's and large cargo planes equivalent to the military C-130.  I've also seen the millions of dollars worth of spill response equipment capable of handling both onshore and offshore spills, and this equipment is maintained and the personnel are trained.  Refer to the website below for further details.  That being said, currently they are not equipped for handling a spill under the ice flow, but that's because current operations don't produce from under the ice flow, therefore it's not a risk.  But Shell's drilling and potential production could change this depending upon how they decide to develop it.

-  It was also stated above that drilling in ANWR should be put on hold until metocean data is available.  The drilling that was being proposed for ANWR was all onshore drilling, therefore metocean data is not needed.  Drilling in ANWR would have an impact, it's impossible to develop anything without some sort of impact, but the impact would entail the construction of dirt roads, pipelines, well pads, and processing facilities which would impact a small fraction of the overall land.  If for some reason, the worst did happen, and there was a blowout or a pipeline leak, it is very easy to remediate because it is onshore.

-  I do agree that there are some places in the arctic which aren't prepared for development because of lack of existing infrastructure, but the north coast of Alaska is not one of those locations.

Harrison Oluwaseyi's picture


A recent survey has
said that the Arctic holds about one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves,
but the operation of drilling and producing oil and gas wells in this very
fragile region over time has been a major concern for not just the government,
but for also environmentalist and some oil giants like Total SA, speaking
against arctic drilling saying the cost of an oil spill or an accident is too huge
for a company. Drilling of wells in this region was first recorded in the late
1920's but over the last two decades due to change in the climatic conditions
it has become more tedious.

Recent events has
proved that the oil and gas industry does not have the required technology to
drill for oil and gas in the arctic region e.g. Royal Dutch Shell made
investments worth over five billion dollars in their assets in the arctic
region, after this huge investment a test run was carried out for a safety equipment
and it failed, this caused for a halt of all drilling activities in the region.
BP a major player in that region halted its operations in that region after the
recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill (2010). Another major concern is the working
environment and safety of workers in this region during the harsh winter season.

Going back in history
to the first oil wells drilled, which were called wild cats, drilling for oil
was done without casings, BOPs, mud etc over time with better understanding and
advancement in technology better techniques were used to drill. Drilling in the
arctic has to be encouraged by the government and the general public, and
safety regulations have to be put in place using the goal setting approach so
oil operator companies can invest in this region and be prepared for any unplanned


- 2007, Matthew J. Kotchen, Nicholas E. Burger, Should we drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: An economic perspective.

- 2011, Dayton Dove, Scientific Drilling in the Arctic Ocean


talal slim's picture

 The subsea industry has executed at least one subsea project in conditions which are similar to the Arctic conditions . An example is the Kirinskoye Project , the first subsea project in the Russian Fedration , which is operated by Gazprom. The field is located 28 km east of Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk , and the area has very similarities with arctic regions with up to 7 months of ice cover per year . So, the technology is there and it has been field proven.

Having said that , I agree with many of the comments stated earlier about the risks and challenges faced when drilling and constructing a project in the Arctic. I would add that challenges  are not limited to remote locations, harsh weather and extreme temperatures, but free-floating and gouging ice features a threat to the integrity and functionality of the subsea hardware (Xmas Trees, Manifolds, Wellheads.....etc) , umbilicals, flowline, risers and pipelines.

So the challenges are big, but the prize is even bigger since it is estimated that the Arctic holds 15% to 25% of the world's petroleum reserves (Kenny et al., 2007). I am sure many of us heard the recent news about the BP-Roseneft deal . Analysts  believe that one of the main reasons for this deal is the future  development of the Russian Arctic reserves. BP needs Roseneft to access these reserves , and Roseneft needs BP technical expertise to be able to develope those fields.

References :

Kenny,S., Palmer, A. and Been, K. (2007). "Design challenges for offshore pipelines in arctic environments"

sreehariprabhu's picture

I agree to the points Aaron made. The LRET lecture by Professor Moan shows the importance of inspections needed to be carried out to ensure safety of structures. Especially in Arctic, the temperature and climate conditions are different from what we have experienced till date. So the behavior of materials under these conditions should de examined carefully. Also the climate conditions make the inspections hard and challenging. A failure to make note of a small crack can lead to a big accident. From Professor Moan's lecture it was understood that the failure in detecting a crack led to the collapse of the structure which led to the death of 123 workers in Alexander Kielland accident. So this gives how important it is to inspect a platform regularly.

In Arctic, the major problem is the distance from land. Engineers should travel a lot of miles to reach the platform. So it is necessary that after each inspection, the records are kept clear on the inspection and each inspection is carried out perfectly under the harsh Arctic condition. Eventhough proper inspection is carried out, it must be made sure that the material behaviour till next inspection time is perfect. A research on the behaviour of materials under these conditions can solve these problems. Once we have studied about the material behaviour, their properties under the harsh conditions and also the reliability they can have a state of much safer drilling in Arctic. 

Sreehari Ramachandra Prabhu

Charles Stuart's picture

Reading the posts above, I would agree with those who have commented that offshore drilling in the Arctic is absolutely inevitable, despite the environmental concerns.


Given the investment already made in acquiring the leases and the vast reserves in both Alaska and Russia it would be naive to believe that the Arctic won't be home to a huge offshore industry in the coming years.  I’m not sure the natives and the environmentalists will be able to resist the combined might of the oil companies, however valid their arguments may be.


Having said this, it appears the regulatory bodies involved are acutely aware of the inherent dangers of operating in this environment and are imposing unprecedented conditions on operators who wish to work there before they grant drilling permits.  To use the example of Shell's proposed drilling north of Alaska, they have been forced to delay drilling for not meeting the conditions of their oil spill prevention and response plan (an oil-spill response vessel listed in the company’s drilling plan, wasn’t ready on time which lead to their permits not being granted).


During drilling this year (for data only) Shell were forced to abandon activates due to heavy sea ice in the vicinity.  I’m not sure it would be practical to so readily abandon a full scale drilling campaign due to the massive costs involved, so the oil companies may be forced to delay full scale exploration until they can better overcome the hazards associated with the environment.

talal slim's picture


Agree with what you have said earlier. There are many  challenging demands set  by the Regulators on many aspects of Arctic Drilling , among which, some form of  demonstrated relief well capability .

In the event of a loss of well control , a REACTIVE approach . such as a drilling a relief well, may result in a significant spill & clean up operation. So, a PROACTIVE approach would represent a preventive method and as such can limit any spilled volume in the event of a loss of well control as the risk of well control is higher in the Arctic Conditions because :

1) frequent disconnents required because of the packed ice

2) More quick station keeping changes

3) Dynamic positioning in pack ice not well proven

A Super Major has proposed an Alternative Well Kill System (AWKS) to the authorities in Canada as an acceptable replacement for drilling a relief well , in the case of a contingency.

The AWKS SAFETY package is capable of being simply added to a conventional BOP and it provides the following benefits :

1) completely independent back-up thus double the ram shearing & sealing system redundancy

2) increased shear and seal capability

3) accoustic control capable of activation from the rig or icebreaker in case of an emergency

Olamide s Ajala's picture

Arctic drilling is not new to us. It’s been on since the 1920s, but became much more debatable since the advent of BP’s Deepwater Horizon’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic region is one of the most questionable practices in recent times. There are varying groups that stand for and against it but the major bone of contention goes back to the safety concerns. The conditions in the arctic would ordinarily prove harsh to the people working in the region because the arctic region is a very inhospitable place and there is nearly darkness over the winter periods. Also, the temperatures around the arctic region are very low.

We see that there are truly genuine safety concerns as it relates to arctic drilling that at some point even forced some major oil giants like Shell to suspend drilling operations in the arctic during the winter. This was because the huge containment dome designed to hold spill, broke down under trials.

Rebecca Noblin, in her response to president Obama’s support for Arctic drilling said that "by opening the Arctic to offshore drilling, Obama has made a monumental mistake that puts human life, wildlife and the environment in terrible danger. The harsh and frozen conditions in the Arctic, make drilling risky, and an oil spill would be near impossible to clean up". Arctic drilling, she said, can never really be safe. Once we’ve ruined the Arctic for wildlife, we’ll never get it back.



Arctic Drilling by Ross Winter on Wed, 2012-10-10 09:50.

Arctic Drilling activities: (Logic says no, capitalism says yes) by Menelaos Michelakis on Wed, 2012-10-10 09:57

Olamide Sherifah Ajala
Student ID:51230562
Course:Sub sea Engineering

Kyeyune Joseph's picture

Drilling is a key activity in offshore oil and gas industry thus many other activities depend on it greatly. Drilling in the Arctic has many challenges that make it complex. Most of these are related to weather patterns as well as the environment. Some of these include presence of icebergs, permafrost (soil at or below the freezing point of water) and low temperatures that make drilling operations complex. These do affect stability and overall reliability of platforms and adversely affect drilling operations. Remoteness and ecological considerations further make matters worse. Platforms operating in ice waters or being hit by icebergs raise safety concerns during Arctic drilling operations. Additionally, due to harsh environment, Arctic drilling can prove to be disastrous especially to the indigenous population, native wildlife and habitat. This mainly arises when there is loss of containment due to failure of well control systems in emergency situations that can lead to hydrocarbon spills thus impacting the environment nagatively. In a nutshell, effective execution of Arctic drilling activities in a safe manner depends greatly on the operator's ability to do ice management. This includes ice monitoring using ship based systems and radars, as well as employing ice breaking machines to lessen impact of icebergs on platforms.

However, it has to be noted that Arctic drilling has not started today! Companies like ExxonMobil have done it for a number of years in places like Alaska and Canada. They have managed ice conditions by setting up artificial islands made out of gravel like in the Beaufort Sea [1]. Additionally, they have developed and installed ice resistant offshore platforms in places like Cook Inlet in Alaska. These are in addition to other technologies like ice simulation being developed to enable safe exploitation of hydrocarbons in the same region. In summary, safety is still an issue in Arctic drilling operations. However, benchmarking operations of companies like ExxonMobil in the Arctic region can prove to be vital instead of stopping entire drilling operations.

[1] Matskevitch, D. 2007, "Technologies for Arctic Offshore Exploration and Development", vol. 2, no. 2, pp. pp. 1-pp. 1-6.  SPE 102441 PA, available at onepetro
Hamilton, J.M. 2011, "The Challenges of Deep Water Arctic Development", The International Society of Offshore and Polar Engineers, , 19-24 June 2011. 1-11-137 ISOPE conference paper, available at onepetro.

Siwei Kang's picture

I totally agree with my classmates' opinions about halting drilling in Arctic. As most people said, extreme weather gives us many challenges on technology and safety. Take the Northwest Siberia for example, the temperature in winter can fall below -55 degree, whilst in summer it can jump over 30 degree. The cold weather leads limited choice of materials for drilling rig. Another problem is from the wind. It can result in many problems for the drilling operation and safety management. Other parameters like pack ices can also jeopardize the safety of offshore drilling. Altough the first arcitc offshore development was carried out successfully, the relative problem about environment still existed.

Meanwhile, after the blowout accident and oil spill in Macondo, U.S governement put a 6 month moratorium on deepwater and arctic drilling. Altough in 2012 the royal dutch shell was granted permission by the U.S government to explore oil in the arctic again, the debate of drilling in arctic region is still going on in this country, and the granted area is also only limited to the off coast of Alaska.

in view of enormous challenges and uncertainties, it is better halt drilling in this region.

Mykola Mamykin's picture


There is a small study done by Canadian lawyer who specializes in energy matters in regards of perspectives on Arctic drilling [1].


The authors start off by saying how slow Arctic development is comparing to substantial oil reserves which it holds. They give example of 5.5 million barrels of oil were produced in the entire Canadian Arctic in 2010, even though almost all oil Majors have "Exploration" and "Significant Discovery" Licenses in the Arctic (Specific feature of Canadian offshore regulatory framework).


Article provides interesting statistics on safety in Arctic drilling:

Offshore of Newfoundland and Labrador, 355 wells have been drilled since 1966, without the loss of a single well. During that time, a total of just 1,100 barrels of oil have been spilled in that area. That works out to one barrel spilled per million barrels produced.


It should be taken into account, that northern Atlantic is very cold, seasonal ice is a constant issue, it is extremely remote and has very short drilling seasons.


Authors finish with a positive note, stating that a good case can be made that the risks of drilling offshore can be well managed.



1. The Risk and Regulation of Deepwater Off­shore Drilling: American and Canadian Perspectives. By Amy Jaffe and Alexander MacDonald.

Ryan Grekowicz's picture

If anybody is interested in learning more about what Shell is proposing for a production platform, refer to page 12 of the newsletter which the above link takes you to.  In the article is a conceptual model of what the platform will look like, and they discuss how the foundation will be designed to counter the loads applied by the ice.  The water depth is between 100-150 feet deep, therefore the option of building a man-made island (as I've discussed in previous posts), is not a viable option.  Evidently they are looking at a massive steel foundation the size of a sports arena, and the wells would be housed inside the foundation.  

There are a lot of unknowns when designing for ice loading, therefore incorporating reliabiilty into the design is very tricky but at the same time, very important.  A classmate had previously mentioned an offshore platform near Sakhalin Island in Russia's Eastern Arctic which encounters ice loading, but from reading this article, I learned that the ice encountered off of Sakhalin is different from the ice in the Chukchi Sea where Shell drilled.  Evidently the ice off of Sakhalin is considered "single year ice", meaning that the ice was formed that same year, then melts in the spring.  In the Chukchi Sea, the ice is multi-year ice, meaning that it doesn't necessarily melt in the spring, but rathers flows north during the summer and stays frozen, then flows back down in the Fall.  This type of ice is more dangerous because it is larger, thicker, and can move faster.  As a result of these unique conditions, the platform that Shell is proposing is truly the first of its kind, and a lot of effort needs to be placed into the design and testing.  That being said, I still don't believe that this project should be halted, but should rather progress forward with a lot of oversite and focus on modeling the potential impacts of the environment. 

Giorgos Hadjieleftheriou's picture

Arctic drilling activities be halted until the Safety and Technology are

Exploiting in the arctic presents
a challenging operation, because of the very low temperatures, the frozen surfaces
and the harsh living conditions.

Oil and gas companies are
using the latest technologies and operating standards to reach the desire
outcome. Having in mind the harsh conditions, companies have to design and
apply some very good regulations regarding safety. Some of them are:

3D seismic on ice

Improvements in well design and well control

Advancement in oil spill prevention

Exploring for hydrocarbons
began more than 80 years ago. Over the years safety regulations has been
changed significantly. The safety of the workers is a priority. During this
time period calculations in the design of a variety offshore structure has
enabled safety resist on the loads and pressures caused by extreme ice
conditions. Engineers and safety managers has improved the safety conditions in
the arctic. Exploitation must continue operating because of the high demand of
hydrocarbons and the existence of them in deeper waters and colder areas. Safety
is everything nowadays.


Very low tempreture,darkness, existance of ice and icebergs make the condition of arctic exploring and exploiting harsh. A lot of accidents can happen in this situation. For instance, icebergs may collode the vessels. As a result, alot of measures should be taken to ensure safety. After alot of incidents in oil and gas industry, like deepwater horizen, it should be taken into consideration that such accidents are likely to happen. It is estimated that near 1,700 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 90 barrels of oil lay beneath the arctic region and remain undiscovered. That is why shell was too serious to exploit such amount of oil and gas. If oil spills, the damages and afterward consequences will be very large. It can also pose risks to weather as it accelerate the pace of global warming. It also poses risks to the life of the species in the arctic which is against the agreement made in Rio20 to save the arctic.As a result, I subscribe to my classmates' ideas that it should be halted until safety and technology are improved.


Source:Alberto Serna Martin, 2012,The impacts and Risks of Deepwater and Arctic Hydrocarbon Development [Online], available at

Joan.C.Isichei's picture

In addition to Nina’s post, the artic being environmentally sensitive will suffer terribly in the event of an oil spill and till date, most safety equipment designed for oil spill clean-up in the region are still in the design phase [1]. Even Shell, being one of the leading oil companies prospecting for oil in the arctic region has halted all drilling activities in the artic for the main time, due to the damage sustained by its new oil spill equipment called the “containment dome”, during testing[2]. This is in addition to the company’s huge expenditure(£2.8bn) on the artic drilling project which has been harangued by delays since original plans to drill in 2007[2].As a result of the lack of sustainable safety technology for drilling in the artic, I’m of the opinion that all drilling activities in the artic should be suspended pending the improvement in safety equipment and successful design,completion and testing of innovative technologies.  

Sources:[1] Available at[2] Available at


Uko Bassey's picture

The risk profile in the arctic region is not higher than what is obtained elsewhere except when considering the environmental impacts and protection of the ecosystem, even with differentials weather and climatic conditions in arctic and the rest of the locations. The major concern about drilling in the arctic is environmental because of the unavoidable impacts from each phase of oil development ranging from seismic exploration, production platforms, pipelines, tankers and exploratory drilling. 

Also offshore oil development will include helicopters, support ships, platforms, artificial islands, icebreakers, and rigs, light and noise. All these activities will add significant disturbance in an Arctic ecosystems already suffering terribly from warming. 

Ryan mentioned earlier that "It is remote, very few people will ever travel there and very few people live there because for most of the year it's a frozen barren land, if there is a spill it is easily contained as long as the proper equipment is available". This means few people live or do business in the arctic onshore drilling locations. That means if we calculate AFR, FAR, IR and SIR, the probabilities will be far less than those in other locations even in the event of a blow out. 

Here is the statement from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers website "Hibernia’s gravity-based system is surrounded by a 15-metre thick ice wall, and built with sharp teeth. The structure can withstand the impact of a six-million-ton iceberg, even though icebergs of that size are only expected once in 10,000 years." The probability of this happening is 0.0001 and there is a floating production systems, like those used on the Terra Nova and White Rose oil projects offshore Newfoundland, have the ability to move if ice conditions become too severe or icebergs threaten to move into the immediate vicinity. Although we need more stringent safety steps are required but few are on ground. 

I am in full support of arctic drilling because it is very lucrative only that in the few years there will be a compromise in terms of ALARP to ALAP (As Low As Possibly), the later compromising on the cost in the first few months.

JIEFU's picture

About 24 billion barrels of oil are thought to be below the American continental shelf in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates -- which amounts to about a third of all the oil in the Arctic Circle. Although that would not be enough to wean the U.S. from imported crude, with the high price of oil today (more than $90 a barrel) it is well worth extracting.

Still, the delay could be constructive if Shell and the U.S. government use the time to address discomfiting safety issues.

The troubles that Shell has had with its containment barge are not exactly encouraging. This month, after various mechanical problems with the vessel had been fixed, a test of its oil containment dome failed. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, a minisubmarine (also meant to be used in the event of a spill) was sent to investigate, but became entangled in the dome's anchor lines and sank into the silt at the bottom of Puget Sound.

Now, in the short time it has left before the ocean ices over for the winter, Shell will drill 1,300-foot "top holes" for exploratory wells it hopes to drill next summer. If viable discoveries are made, actual production is still many years off, as it will require constructing new conduits to carry oil from offshore rigs to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.

Shell is preparing multiple defenses against a blowout, including two sets of plungers on its blowout preventers and additional "capping stacks" that could seal a malfunctioning blowout preventer. In addition, the company has promised to test those preventers more frequently than is required.

The company's efforts are commendable, but they don't take away the need for strong regulatory oversight. Congress has done nothing to raise ocean oil-drilling standards since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico more than two years ago.

The Interior Department has filled some of the gap by strengthening its oversight of ocean drilling. Although this is laudable, it still needs to make sure that Shell and other companies wanting to operate in the Arctic are equipped to handle the unique conditions there. The agency, which is planning to hold two more lease sales in the region during the next five years, already excludes certain sensitive areas in the Arctic Ocean from exploration. It also restricts the time that drilling can occur to the warmest months.

Other concerns need to be addressed. Although the water is relatively shallow -- about 150 feet deep, compared with 5,000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico -- floating ice is a constant threat. So it is essential that all vessels used in drilling and all equipment used in cleanup be field-tested to work in cold, icy and windy conditions.

The same rising temperatures that make it easier than ever to bring oil-drilling rigs to the Arctic are causing drastic environmental change -- melting ice, warmer water, stronger waves and greater erosion. This puts stress on the fish, birds, plants and animals in the ecosystem. Important as it is to find new sources of oil, it is equally important to take every safety precaution so that this fragile, (still) frosty patch of the planet remains protected

Angelos Hadjiantoni's picture

Arctic drilling even though is not something new it is a topic that causes a lot of argument.
GreenPeace is against Arctic Drilling since it might cause a spill with unknown environmental consequences.
The fact that the temperatures in the Arctic are so low makes it difficult to compare the drilling process with other process.
Also the strong winds and sea currents are a challenging factor that increases the overall risks.
According to Reuters "...the greatest risks can’t be measured in billions of dollars; they are too priceless".
Shell which is currently doing test drilling at the Artic did not pass critical safety regulations.
As humans we tend to be greedy and do not consider possible side effects.

I believe that Artic should be preserved as an animal safe place and companies should focus on other sources of energy instead in order to make them more affordable for the future.

Best Regards,

Angelos Hadjiantonis
MSc Renewable Energy


farman oladi's picture

Through the recent years marine ecosystem have been contaminated from Oil & Gas drilling at sea. In a report issued on April 2012, National Wildlife Federation scientific findings on Gulf of Mexico incident have been released. However the large oil spill in Chukchi and Beaufort in the Arctic sea, and the full effect of Deepwater Horizon blowout has not yet been carefully studied.

Although innovated technology has been used for drilling but deepwater horizon demonstrated that process in use is still far from absolute certainty. To insure safety, the industry still lacks for regulatory oversights. Although in the last decades deepwater exploration and oil extraction has experienced great improvements, however it could not completely avoid oil spills. Based on which following issues should be re-considered:

 Regulations should be modified to increase safety through higher drilling technology.

 Higher oil rig inspection to be implied.

 Detailed study to be carried on marine environment and ecosystem in arctic.

 Oil drilling should be stopped or postponed at Arctic Sea until safety of oil drilling can be assured.


Oluwatadegbe Adesunloye Oyolola's picture

First, for each platform, there must be access roads. Roads are necessary to bring in construction equipment, as well as supplies for the oil rigs and the workers. Building these roads likely would disrupt the tundra. To reduce the impact, access roads are often made of ice, and these roads have been successful in many areas of the Arctic.
However, ice roads may be difficult to make in the hilly terrain and could only be used during winter months. In nearby Prudhoe Bay, some gravel roads have replaced ice ones. Opponents fear that gravel paths would have a larger environmental impact.

Second, there must be some way to ship the extracted oil from the rig. Pipelines or tanker trucks are the typical methods. How much room will the roads and pipelines take up? Proponents of drilling commonly contend that oil
operations will only take up 2,000 acres (809 hectares) compared to the 1.5 million acres (607,028 hectares) of Area 1002 or the 19.6 million acres (7.9 million hectares) of ANWR. However, opponents point out that this figure
doesn't include the area ­enclosing the roads or pipelines necessary to access the rigs and transport the recovered oil. Some contend that Area 1002 in the Arctic would be despoiled by the "sprawl" of oil platforms and their necessary infrastructure.




Oluwatadegbe A.O

MSc Oil and Gas Engineering

Michail.Sevasteiadis's picture

In order to decide if Arctic drilling operations should be halted or not, someone has to understand firstly what are the possible risks chiefly for the field operations, for the environment and the local ecosystem.

The main operational concern is that, due to the fact that the Arctic region is a quite distant place to have easy access, the cost and the consequences of a potential accident is getting significantly increased. Another issue is the frequent lack of communication and navigation due to the polar atmospheric phenomena. Also we have to take account of the unpredictable weather, the temperature fluctuation or even the daylight duration in the winter. Last but not least is the serious issue of icing which can cause failure to the machines and add significant weight to drilling rigs.

The local Arctic ecosystem could encounter a critical disorder after a direct exposure to pollution caused by a possible oil spill. The cleaning of such an oil spill would be a tough challenge as there is no previous experience and knowledge.  It could face a noise pollution due to the seismic surveying, drilling operations and heavy ship traffic. Another issue could be the pipelines or the roads that will be constructed to transport the crude oil or natural gas.

From my point of view, Arctic drilling should be applied after achieving considerable risk limitation to all of the mentioned risk factors.

Lloyd’s. Arctic Opening: Opportunity and Risk in the High North. Chatham House: 2012.

latest report Arctic
Opening: Opportunity and Risk in the High North
by the insurance
market Lloyds warned, there exist special dangers when drilling in Arctic area
in comparison with drill in other places. In particular, it is probably that
drilling through permafrost may lead to warming and damage of drilling basis
which is possibly connected with blowout.
Peter Wadhams, a professor
of University of Cambridge, suggested that the exploration in Arctic has
highest risks all over the world for once there exists oil leakage under water,
it is almost impossible to clean it up. A big experiment has ever been undertaken
in 1970s which found that oil could be absorbed by ice and shifted in large
range with ice and when ice melts in spring; the oil may float away several hundreds
of miles and cause severe ecological disaster. All in all, much more efforts
shall be put into safety and technology research on drilling in Arctic.

Kingsley ENEM's picture

The arctic drilling for oil poses distinctive physical challenges; icy conditions, extreme temperatures, remoteness, and long times of darkness. Technology is the key to tackling these challenges.
Arctic drilling for oil should be stopped until the safety and technology improvement are improved. It should be halted until there stronger safeties against spills which could destroy the environment. Cleaning up a spill in the ice waters of the arctic would be exceedingly difficult, with the techniques for responding to an accident not decisively proved to work in the extreme environments.
An oil leakage may perhaps be "devastating" for wildlife if a blow-out happened just before the Arctic winter closed in, preventing efforts to stop the leak until the subsequent summer, possibly leaving oil discharging out under the ice for six months or more with devastating consequences for wildlife. Breakdown of the ice cap would lead to further warming of the Arctic, be catastrophic for wildlife and could harm regional and global climate.

Ekaterina Pavlichenko's picture

An article within the Financial Times discusses the issue, with the Arctic holding around ten percent of the world’s untapped oil reserves and around thirty percent of its natural gas, holding back the energy companies is going to be extremely difficult. Indeed considering that the oil companies have already been operating in the Arctic for over 50 years without mishap does show the sense of commitment in both safety and operational competence along with stringent regulations and controls that are being applied.

Can this be stopped now? Well considering that virtually all the easy to get at oil has been ‘got’ and with oil prices at over $100 a barrel, oil companies are prepared to invest in the technology to ensure that further exploration is possible and conducted, so I think the answer is simply, No!

What we can do is try to ensure that the legislation is in place to make sure the acquisition of this resource is conducted in the most environmentally effective way.

ZHANGYANAN's picture

Topic 17:
Should Arctic drilling activities be halted until the Safety and Technology are

I agree
with this point of view. As it can be easily seen that the negative impact on
the environment of the drilling. That will also happen in the Arctic area.
There are some points that can support my view of delay the drilling in the
Arctic area.

Arctic oil
drilling is abnormally dangerous. The Arctic is one of the coldest regions of
the Earth. Any activities in the Arctic will be more difficult than in other

Our climate cannot afford. With the effects of
climate change becoming increasingly significant and huge, we should minimize
the oil drilling and burning less fossil fuels, especially in ecologically
fragile such as Arctic and some other inaccessible areas.

wells construction difficulties. Blowout events - such as the Deepwater Horizon
oil spill - must build the relief wells, but the arrival snow and ice of winter
will bring relief well a short the construction period. This means that
(Arctic) the event of a blowout, unable to stop at least two years.

recovery technology is almost impossible in the cold weather. Standard
anti-leak technology such as the construction of anti-oil boom is difficult to
achieve in such thick ice. According to a Canadian company responsible for the
oil spill liability According to a senior official, they said: "We are
really not able to recover the oil leak in the Arctic."

As the
lack of corresponding capacity of the oil spilling. Remote Arctic - sparsely
populated, and the equipment is scarce. About 6,000 ships used to clear the oil
leaked out of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. However, Cairn Energy in Baffin
Bay, Greenland, only a mere 14 vessels to send them; Shell specify only 9 ships
to deal with possible oil spill in the Chukchi Sea.

The Arctic
location makes (leak) oil is more difficult than the low latitudes absorbed by
the environment. Arctic lacks of light in winter, in the cold weather. This
means that the oil spill environmental dilution will experience a longer time
because the oil will be sealed in the sea ice. Spill 20 years ago in Alaska,
the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground today in the vestiges of the Prince
William Sound near the environment but also the discovery of oil.

Oil can
easily pose a threat to the fragile Arctic local wildlife. Many birds, whales
and seals will migrate to the Arctic in the summer. Polar bears and arctic fox
are also very dependent on the marine and coastal resources. If industrial
development improved, there will be a direct impact on the survival of these






Zhang Yanan    ID: 51233945 oil and gas

Drilling in the arctic

Drilling in the deep water has improved with time and
brought about new legislations and laws that encourage good and safe working
environments. Development in oil and gas drilling and exploration improves
after any major incident. Lesson learnt do always guide against any future risk
and hazard. 

Drilling in the arctic will come with its own dangerous path
as envisage by the safety and environmental enforcement team [1]. Arctic drilling
is another new challenge in the oil industry. Previously, drilling started on-land
with jack-up steel jackets but currently has improved into the deep water using
drilling ships.  Therefore, I believe drilling
in the arctic will definitely come with its own challenges, hazard and risk but
with past oil industrial experience, ways to mitigate such will be greatly
considered and implemented. Oil spillage in the arctic has explained by some
engineers is easy to resolve and clean up [2]. The flow of oil spill in the ice
will be minimal as considered; the ice movement of 10km per day should give
amble time for quick response than in deep waters.

Drilling in arctic should rather be implemented and risk assessed as activities improves. This will bring about overcoming greater challenges in arctic drilling. Moreover, the companies involve will not stop at nothing looking at there already made investment. 




haroon latif's picture

I agree with the general consensus of this topic that drilling in the arctic is not safe. However many geologists estimate that the arctic holds billions of barrels worth of oil, including the Alaskan coast. Regardless of the safety and environmental risk currently posed to the arctic, the demand for oil and gas continues and multinational corporations such as Shell have invested billions of US dollars in the region and begun exploration already because of this. 

There has been research and development done to reduce some of the risks mentioned by a few colleagues in the above posts. For example, the DNV foundation has created innovate new technology called AURORA – which is essentially an oil spill response system, using an unmanned vessel. It has the ability to tow storage bladders, perform remote in situ burning, and remove oil from ice using conveyor belt technology. And it can be used both above and below water [1]. 

Although the technology is still at the development stage, there are similar technologies with capabilities as AURORA. It is up to companies such as Shell to decide if they are worth investing into. However the argument to stop drilling in the arctic will fall on deaf ears, unless Governments step in to stop them. 

[1] Oil spill response system developed for Arctic exploration Oil and Gas Technology – Accessed 2nd December 2012

Haroon Latif
MSc Oil and Gas Engineering

Maxwell Otobo's picture

The arctic is a potential oil rich region but hugely controversial in terms of energy exploration.

Problems of drilling in the Arctic : Drilling in the arctic is faced with problems such as dealing with the environment, the sub-zero temperature which could hinder people and equipment to work efficiently, & access to work site as ground is permafrost. All these obstacles can be tackled and therefore pose no major threat to artic drilling.

There are still safety issues that pose major threats to the arctic environment.


  • The risk of an oil spill is very high in arctic regions and in case of a spill, the techniques to be used to control the spill are not reliable. This is a critical issue and brings about the Shell's case where they had to suspend/put off completing wells recently in the arctic for another year because a test on oil containment dome to be used in the case of a spill failed and the oil containment dome was damaged.
  • Also, a ship anchored by Shell in Alaska's dutch habour drifted off its mooring came close to shore.


These cannot ensure safety in the arctic. Drilling in the arctic would pose an unacceptable risk of irreparable damage and i strongly agree that all drilling activities should be suspended until a reliable system for responding to oil spills is developed.

In the United states, the Obama administration has suspended drilling leases for the Artic until 2016 which i think is just perfect to allow sufficient time for further research on the region as well as afety and technology improvement.





Arctic propose difficulties in which are other regions of oil
and gas production do not have and these issues need greater understanding
before Artic drilling should be expanded. The Arctic has vast natural resources
beyond hydrocarbons with a large commercial fishing industry and a unique,
delicate ecosystem which already under threat from climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) ,
believe that further research is required before exploration terms into
production. NOAA suggest that further research should be carried out into the
effect on the artic environment on platforms and drill ships and the response
method to spills.

Spills are rising in the North Sea and if an accident did
occur like Deep Horizon occurred in the Arctic region which is a much harsher
regions than damage will be greater. The lack understanding of production
techniques in this environment is not worth just carrying out wide scale
production without greater understanding as the harsh, isolated environment
with strong current will be greater challenge to deal with. The environment damage
could be incomprehensible and the financial consequences could be beyond what
any company could afford. Therefore, the risk to the environment and financially
is greater than the benefits of drilling in the Arctic and until greater
knowledge of drilling in these conditions through research to minimise these

James Parry
MSc Subsea Engineering


 In my early years in my career working offshore, the impact of our drilling activities could be felt. there were constant dumping of treated waste into the ocean even though it was cleared as acceptable but it cannot be denied that we were increasing our carbon footprints on the ocean. The issue of banning artic drilling being advocated by environmental activist is understable considering the delicate nature of the artic and its effect on our ecosystem. Although the oil industry has made considerable progress in reducing its footprint and some oil major claim that arctic conditions would make it easier to recover oil and even
independent tests in Arctic conditions have shown that ice can slow oil
weathering, dampen waves, prevent oil from spreading over large
distances, and allow more time to should still be noted the industry may be pushing its limits to far in encroaching our ecosystem.

Uhunoma Osaigbovo

Subsea Engineering D/L

Ikechukwu Onyegiri's picture

Artic drilling refers to oil and gas development activities that take place on the continental shelf above the Artic Circle or at locations at such high latitudes that the average daily summer temperature does not rise above 10 degree Celsius. Drilling in the Arctic is still persimistic when it comes to deepwater operations but so far technology on ground has been able to handle shallow depths (0-400m). Though it remains the largest unexplored oil and gas reservoir on Earth, man made technology is not yet advanced to meet the challenges such as pack ice, icebergs, potential exposure to long hours of darkness and extremely low temperature. One major technological issue involved with Arctic drilling is the temperature gradient and reliability of downhole tools.

Apart from the benefits derived from exploring this areas, the potential impact cannot be overlooked. Firstly, emissions from combustion engines, flaring of gas for safety reasons and the escape of fugitive methane emissions during transport cause the release of greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds. I must say at this point that the regulatory risks which have been exploited by recent offshore catastrophes make regulatory frameworks even tighter on issuance of drilling permits. This is good but even if artic deepwater drilling is going to be feasible and reasonable the tight reulations might just be a major hurdle.

Also there exist litigations risks. Due to incidents like the Macondo, shareholders have become strict with indulging in any project which might incur environmental effects on a scale of compensational pollutions. This means shortage in investment, reduced pace research and realisation of deepwater arctic drilling.

Furthermore, there exist reputational risks. The powerful images of oil spills, worker fatalities and the effects of climate change in the Arctic can induce strong emotion among the general public and can expose companies involved in Arctic operations to significant negative media attention. Negative reputational impacts becomes a major issue especially when NGOs and local communities organize in sophiscated ways.

Finally I will look at Operational Risk of which the major one being the ice which is subject to wind and water currents. From damage to platforms to delay in transportation and rapid response in case of emergencies. Its true that there exist no one-size-fits-all technology that guarantees safety and as such equipment selection will involve immense technical consideration. Also unexpected delays and operational stoppages can translate into high and unwelcomed expenses for the company.

With these risks I've mentioned it can be suggested that arctic drilling is not only one where we tie direct links to fatalities and technological advancement but it is still too an under-developed concept which needs to be properly analysed and until then I guess major oil players will stay out of it.


Ikechukwu Onyegiri

Msc Oil and Gas Engineering 

Kevin K. Waweru's picture

The harsh and challenginer arctic conditions call for robust drilling technology and response mechanisms to mitigate against safety and environmental incidents.

According to Shell, offshore arctic exploration rigs are made of non-brittle steel for added safety and reinforced for use in low temperature, heavy ice areas. The rigs are equipped to include blowout preventers and are supported by ice breaking vessels. Ice movements are constantly monitored using radar with regular weather forecasts tracked using satellites. Most exploration is carried out during summer and autumn to avoid the heavy ice conditions that occur during winter [1].

Talk of arctic drilling and Sakhalin in Russia comes to mind as one of the best example [2]. Although Sakhalin is considered sub-arctic, it goes to show that exploration in such hostile environments can be successfully undertaken using the right technology, good planning and objective management.



Kevin K. Waweru

MSc Oil & Gas Engineering

Hani Shobaki's picture

As the group have mentioned above, arctic drilling is very high risk. The conditions are not something that operators have a lot of experience with. The addition of ice to the operation makes it very difficult to put an adequate spill response plan in place. Even Pete Slaiby, VP of Shell Alaska says spills are inevitable (1), but will not be of any significance, and with no impact on people's livelihood. Steiner (2) mentions the effects oil production will have on the environment, not only from drilling, but through the installation of infrastructure, noise and light disturbances, and increased traffic. The fragile ecosystem has not evolved around human activity and is very sensitive to it. I personally believe that even without a major spill the ecosystem will be permanently ruined. My question is whether our energy and profit demands can justify this?

1.Rapp, L. Shell Oil VP: Spills Will Happen In Arctic Drilling. SourceFeed. 3 Dec, 2012. (3 Dec 2012)
2. Steiner, R. Arctic special: Why Arctic Ocean oil drilling is a risky choice. The Ecologist. 19 Oct 2012. (3 Dec 2012)

eddy itamah's picture

The Arctic poses special physical challenges:remoteness, ice, extreme temperatures, and long periods of darkness. Technology is the key to meeting these challenges. For example, ice conditions can vary considerably between regions, within regions and depending on water depths and distance to shore. The ice also changes through the seasons: freezing up in autumn, getting thickest in winter, melting in spring and creating open water in summer. During the months when ice grows, wind and water currents cause it to move and form ice ridges that can be many times thicker than ice
held fast to the land. Protecting the region’s fragile biodiversity poses an additional technical challenge. Advances in technology are central to reducing physical footprints, discharges, air emissions, and marine sound. Energy industry technology has come a long way in the past three decades, with advances in safety equipment and more cost-effective design of ships and structures. Other technical advances include better satellite capability to see through clouds and darkness, and more efficient oil and gas exploration and production technology.

But the environmental impact of any widespread drilling in the region is a key worry for green campaigners.

Access to the region in the event of any oil spill would be
severely compromised, especially in the winter months where only 20% of
the region can be accessed by boat. Due to these challenges, arctic drilling should be halted until there is an improvement in the drilling technology.




Artic Drilling

Can a financial value be placed on the Arctic?

All projects are undertaken with an element of risk and the
reward of financial gain plays the biggest part. A financial impact of a
problem will need to be factored in the decision to go to with drilling in the Arctic.

If an accident did occur, how could a financial value be placed
on the unique environment and nature and could any company afford the clean-up
costs. The clean-up cost and the environmental of Deep Horizon, for that a
leading company like BP had massive financial implications.  In Artic which is more isolated and harsher
environment conditions like stronger water currents there impacts compared to
Deep Horizon will be multiplied and could a company afford this magnitude of financial
costs. With unproven technology and a proven clean up method is it a risk worth
taking for a company?

James Parry
MSc Subsea Engineering

VICTOR ETIM's picture

The Artic is an environmentally critical ecosystem where strict
legislation on zero discharge regime of hydrocarbon is prevalent. This among
other stringent factors have made drilling activities most challenging since there
are huge presence of aquatic birds, mammals and huge variety of commercial
fishery and their conservation and survival is of great important. Most
regulators like the Norwegian Department of environment and Department of Oil
and Energy are very keen of the safety of this rich ecosystem thus drilling and
exploration faces high stringent risk levels to contend with (abolishment of
the application of oil based drilling mud) in most Artic regions as most
environmentalist are strongly opposed to various proposed mitigated exploration

Another key challenge to safety in a Artic drilling is the
harsh weather conditions, reservoir complexity and drilling waste disposal management
in a zero discharge region which has sparse technological skills for handling. Finally
I think there could be a way out if more committed effort is allocated to
research and development to find possible processing techniques in the design
and treatment of the waste with sustainable and accurate job safety analysis
for the risk management which is usually capital intensive but compare to the
returns from the huge prospect of hydrocarbon reserves a balance can always be
achieved if safety is fully considered. 


HOSET ET AL., 2005,


51126236. OGE.

Ojo Oluwayimika Joseph's picture

Trying to drill a rig in the arctic is a huge challenge in many phases. Operating a drilling rig in such harsh environments is a major problem for both operators and drilling engineers as temperatures may fall to as low as -55 during the winter months. Engineers have a limited choice of materials to choose from that can operate under these extremely freezing conditions. Steel materials required under such conditions need less phosphor and more nickel to avoid problems of cold embitterment. Most times the low temperature is not the problem but wind. As a result, nearly the whole of the rig would need to be housed. Another major challenge is the issue of heating as most of the rig would have to be sufficiently heated through the winter periods because of the afore mentioned low temperatures. The technicalities of setting up this rig are also daunting and tedious.

It is of my opinion that these rigs should be kept functional but with extreme care and improved safety measures. Shutting down operations because of such problems would only limit technological advancements and innovation. However, effective safety contingencies should be considered before venturing into such fields.



Thomas Kipker/Bentec GmbH. Drilling Rigs in Arctic Deep Temperature Environments-Design and Operation


Ojo Oluwayimika Joseph   

Oil and Gas Engineering 


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