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Arctic oil drilling needs better federal regulation (+video)

The federal review released today that discusses the failures that plagued last year's Arctic oil-drilling operations is a welcome first step. But only by strengthening federal regulation of these operations can President Obama show a commitment to responsible Arctic Ocean development.

A new study by the Pew Environment Group recommends reforms to close gaps in oversight, response planning, and risk assessment associated with proposed oil and gas development in Alaska's Arctic Ocean. The study, "Oil Spill Response in the US Arctic Ocean: Unexamined Risks, Unacceptable Consequences," is a comprehensive analysis of challenges to preventing and containing spills along the nation's northernmost coast.
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While the allure of oil reserves in the Arctic Ocean has attracted the interest of several major energy companies, recent news has made it clear that the region is an extremely challenging and dangerous place to drill for oil. Royal Dutch Shell PLC – the only company that attempted to drill in the US Arctic Ocean in 2012 – has delayed plans to try drilling again this year because it needs more time to repair and upgrade its drill rigs and containment system after last year’s string of mishaps. This announcement comes just prior to today’s release of a review of last year's drilling activities by the US Department of the Interior. 

The federal review represents a welcome first step toward identifying safety and systems failures that plagued last year's Arctic oil-drilling operations. Only by taking additional steps to strengthen federal review and regulation of these operations, however, can the Obama administration show its commitment to responsible Arctic Ocean development.

Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered the expedited assessment after a Shell oil rig ran aground near Alaska's Kodiak Island on New Year's Eve. The Kulluk was on its way to the Pacific Northwest from its Arctic drilling site off Alaska's north coast when the ship towing it lost power, the towlines broke, and the rig hit the rocks.

It wasn't the drilling season's sole mishap. Both the Kulluk and a second rig, the Noble Discoverer, are now being towed to Asia for inspection and repairs. A US Coast Guard investigation of the Noble Discoverer found 16 violations of safety and pollution-control regulations. A US Department of Justice criminal investigation is now under way based on the violations.

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