Oil Spill Technology Research Continues for Arctic Exploration

Following the Deepwater Horizon incident, Canada’s National Energy Board reaffirmed its same season relief well guidelines (SSRW). An NEB official said that the regulatory mechanisms are in place to ensure any future Arctic offshore drilling is conducted with the environment in mind, UPI reported last year.

These regulations include an equivalency concept, which allowed for the adoption of equipment, methods and standards that were the same or higher level of those at the time regulations were drafted to protect the environment and conserve resources.

However, SSRW capabilities in water depths from 984 feet to 6,561 feet (300 to 2,000 meters) are highly challenged, said Bill Scott, general manager of the Chevron Arctic Center, during a presentation at the Arctic Technology Conference. Scott said that well capping was the shortest option for stopping and securing a well, and that a well capping system can be moved three to four times more quickly to a site compared with a relief well drilling system. Drilling a relief well was more likely to result in an oil spill.

The ability to quickly and efficiently address potential oil spills is not just an Arctic issue, but an issue of remoteness, Scott noted.

The impact of oil spills on local environment and wildlife, and the potential disruption to local native tribes, remain a concern for tribes such as the Inuvialut, said Frank Pokiak, chair of the Inuvialut Game Council, during the conference. The limited availability of infrastructure and Arctic class vessels, and the fact that drilling activity is moving into deeper waters where SSRW may not be applicable, and limited drilling seasons, has Pokiak and other indigenous residents wanting a better understanding of what is deemed equivalent to SSRW.


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