* Arctic conditions pose unique response challenges -report
* Lawmaker wants stronger oversight of well containment
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, March 30 The U.S. government must
consider the harsh conditions of the Arctic and lack of
containment infrastructure as it weighs Royal Dutch Shell's
plans to drill off the Alaska coast, a report said on
The Government Accountability Office, Congress'
investigative arm, said in its report that the oil industry's
ability to cap out-of-control wells in deep water has improved
since the BP oil spill dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into
the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
But the report said the ice, the cold, and the lack of
extensive infrastructure in the Arctic are obstacles not found
in the Gulf.
"The existence of different types of risk and the limited
response infrastructure pose additional challenges Interior will
have to address to conclude that it is providing sufficient
oversight," the report said.
The Interior Department approved Shell's oil-spill response
plan for the Alaska's Beaufort Sea on Wednesday and approved the
company's spill-response plan for the Chukchi Sea earlier this
Shell is working to begin drilling off Alaska's coast this
summer after repeated regulatory delays for the company's Arctic
exploration program. It will still need well-specific permits
before it starts drilling.
The company is taking additional measures to contend with
the Arctic conditions, including having well-containment
equipment in the region to quickly respond to an emergency.
Still, "these dedicated capabilities do not completely
mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks
associated with the remoteness and environment of the region,"
the report said.
Environmentalists and some lawmakers have raised concerns
that the government and the oil industry are still not
adequately prepared to contain a spill in deep waters or in the
"The Department of Interior needs to do more than accept
industry's assurances that blowout containment technology will
be available, and I call on the Department to beef up its
oversight and enforcement of these activities," Congressman
Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources
committee, said in response to the report.
The report said the department has strengthened its
oversight of the oil industry's containment capabilities, but it
needs to lay out a timeframe for including well containment in
its unannounced spill drills.