Hunt for oil suspended after Shell’s spill system fails; meanwhile record Arctic melt continues

Press release - September 18, 2012
Auckland 18/09/2012: Shell Oil has announced overnight (NZ time) that a test of a special Arctic oil spill containment system has failed, and that the company was giving up on drilling for oil in the Arctic this northern summer.

The Noble Discoverer, the drill ship the seven Greenpeace activists occupied for four days in New Plymouth in February, began drilling a well in the Alaskan Arctic just over a week ago. But drilling had to stop soon after, as a giant iceberg forced the Discoverer to abandon its position.

The Arctic Challenger, an oil spill response barge that Shell was required to have on standby once it drilled to a depth at which it expected to find oil, was being tested as part of a US Government certification process when a containment dome was damaged. The dome is designed to be lowered to the seabed to cap an oil well blowout.

Soon afterwards the company announced that it was abandoning its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic in 2012. Instead the Noble Discoverer and another rig, the Kulluk, will drill only ‘top holes’ in preparation for drilling into oil-bearing rock next year.  

The development follows a host of other delays, due to problems in getting emissions consents, and in certifying the Arctic Challenger to operate in Arctic waters. In July, the Discoverer also dragged its anchor while in Dutch Harbour, Alaska.  

“Shell’s farcical drilling season shows why they should not be in the Arctic. It is an incredibly hostile environment, in which an oil spill would be  impossible to clean up,” says Simon Boxer, Greenpeace NZ Senior Climate Campaigner. 

“If they had got to the point at which there was a real oil blowout, they would have failed entirely in capping it.

“It speaks volumes about the company that it has spent US$4.5bn - and seven years - on its Arctic project, but that it doesn’t even have a functioning oil spill response system,” Boxer says.

Shell’s announcement comes four days after the Police revealed that they are seeking over $700,000 in reparation on behalf of the company from the activists involved in occupying the Noble Discoverer in Port Taranaki earlier this year.

Meanwhile, scientists from the US Government’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) say that this year’s Arctic Minimum – the point at which the rate of summer ice loss from the Arctic plateaus – will be declared any day now, and that it will be the lowest minimum since records began in 1979.

The latest data indicates that the ice cap now covers less than four million km2 - a drop of at least 45 per cent since 1979.

The previous record low – set in 2007 - was smashed in late August.


Stills and video of scientists monitoring the state of the ice cap, taken from on board the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise, which is currently in the Arctic, are available from Greenpeace’s FTP server:

Username: media
Password: d15tr1but10n

For an interview with Simon Boxer, or with an NSIDC scientist on board the Arctic Sunrise, call Jay Harkness, Greenpeace Media and Communications, on 021 495 216.