The efforts of six Senate Democrats to delay oil- and gas-drilling leases in the Arctic Ocean until more research is done could have an opposite and unintended effect: Experts agree that one effective way to learn about conditions beneath the frigid waters off the north coast of Alaska is to drill exploratory wells.
"[One] of the best ways to gain information is to allow some measure of activity to go forward," former Interior drilling and safety chief Michael Bromwich told National Journal Daily earlier this month.
Drilling in the Arctic was expected to start this year. But a series of problems with weather conditions and regulatory hurdles had Shell Oil throwing in the towel for anything but preparatory work this year. If the Interior Department allows it, Shell could start actual drilling next year.
Shell's troubles prompted Democratic senators, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, to write Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Sept. 21 urging him to remove all Arctic plans from the department's five-year leasing plan.
"We strongly encourage DOI not to include Arctic lease sales until there is a thorough examination of the scientific, economic, and social factors that could be affected by expanded drilling and a comprehensive review is made of how oil and gas activities will be conducted without harming the Arctic ecosystem ...," wrote Durbin and Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Barbara Boxer of California, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.