Anti-Arctic oil drilling campaigners sighed with relief yesterday as Shell’s Kulluk oil rig (which ran aground in Alaska with some 140,000 gallons of diesel on board) was safely towed away. The ordeal highlighted the complications associated with drilling under the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and Shell’s lack of preparedness to do so. Responding duly to a series of mishaps in the harsh but fragile environment, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has launched a six month investigation to scrutinize Shell’s arctic drilling plan.

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“The review, which is expected to be completed within 60 days, will pay special attention to challenges that Shell encountered in connection with certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger; the deployment of its containment dome; and operational issues associated with its two drilling rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk,” Secretary Salazar said in a statement released yesterday.

After pointing out that drilling in the Arctic could help to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, Secretary Salazar added that exploration helps to enhance the government’s understanding of the risks and benefits of development in the region.

“…but we also recognize that the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment demand an even higher level of scrutiny,” he said.

The government will scrutinize the company’s overall arctic drilling program and the Kulluk incident as two separate reviews, The Guardian reports.

Shell has spent $5 bn on its frontier drilling program to date and is now faced with the costs of repairing the Kulluk oil rig, leading economists to wonder how long it will be until oil companies abandon the idea of arctic drilling altogether – with or without government mandates.

The United States Coast Guard has launched an independent review.

Via The Guardian

Images of Alaska and Ken Salazar, Shutterstock