The New York Times has a lengthy report on Shell’s plans this summer to drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska. Much of the article focuses on the politicking and lobbying behind President Obama’s decision to let the drilling go forward which holds the possibility of tapping a million barrels a day of crude, or close to Qatar’s entire production. One of the many oddities which goes unexplained is why drilling in the Arctic Ocean–an inherently risky undertaking given the existence of icebergs, storms, monster waves, and other dangers–is permitted while drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away–which not only has more oil (upwards of six billion barrels in all) but also could be drilled in greater safety–is not. But let’s leave that aside. What I want to address here is another neglected dimension of this important issue–the security dimension.
I saw this for myself last week when I traveled to Alaska, along with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, to meet with Coast Guard officials and to do an Arctic overflight that took me from Anchorage to Barrow–America’s northernmost city which remains, even now, frigid and snowy. The expansion of oil exploration calls for expanded security–to protect against terrorists and extreme environmentalists who might try to sabotage these operations (Greenpeace is said to be chartering a vessel to try to block Shell) and to guard against other Arctic nations such as Russia that might try to grab for themselves oil fields that rightfully belong to the U.S., Canada or other nations. There is also a need for expanded safety operations to ensure an adequate response in case of accidents or oil spills.