Oil exploration

Gerard Van der Leun photo / Flickr via Compfight

The Arctic is getting hotter faster than any part of the globe. Experts predict the region will be free of sea ice during the summer within about 20 years. 

That’s creating a gold-rush mentality among many shipping and energy companies eager to capitalize on new trade routes or tap new sources of oil and gas.

The Associated Press

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says Royal Dutch Shell will be allowed to begin preparation work at exploratory drilling sites in the Chukchi.

Salazar says the company has been authorized to dig what are called mud-line cellars in the ocean floor to protect blowout preventers that would be installed later below the sea floor level.

The company also will be allowed to drill small pilot holes down to about 1,400 feet.

Royal Dutch Shell could drill several exploratory oil wells into the waters off the north shore of Alaska this summer. The potential prize is huge, but so is the risk, should there be an oil spill in this pristine and remote region. And that risk is on everyone's mind since the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.

Shell is now training hundreds of workers to confront oil in icy waters. But for now, the training is taking place in the calm, ice-free waters far to the south, near the port of Valdez.

The Associated Press

Two vessels fitted with drilling rigs left Seattle Wednesday for Alaska.

Lindsay Lowe / KPLU

Seattle’s Elliott Bay is the epicenter of a global energy fight.

The Shell Oil Company has two rigs docked here, the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer. Also in Elliott Bay is the Greenpeace vessel, Esperanza.

As soon as the ice clears, Shell’s rigs will head out for the Arctic. They’ll be the first to conduct exploratory drilling there in more than two decades. Greenpeace plans to shadow them, using submarines.

The Associated Press

The Arctic drill ship Kulluk has been berthed in Seattle for about 10 months, but if Shell Oil gets final federal permits and overcomes court challenges by environmental groups the vessel will be in Alaska waters this year.