Shell drills in the Arctic, opening new waters to oil

A tug tows an iceberg to safer waters in the north Atlantic Ocean. Shell's start on a pilot well in once-frozen Arctic waters comes after $4 billion in preparation. It could take 10 years for this first Arctic well to produce oil.

Stacey Vanek Smith: After a seven-year effort to open a part of the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling, Shell Oil has run into problems on its second day of work. Sea ice forced the vessel to temporarily stop operations.

The oil giant has a lot a stake with this well, as Scott Tong reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk


Scott Tong: To get an idea how early this is, Shell’s drilling a pilot hole to explore what may be down there. And it can’t get within 4,000 feet of the presumed oil and gas; the feds have to approve a safety barge now in the lower 48 -- i.e., the relationship with regulators just started.

International energy consultant David Goldwyn.

David Goldwyn: They’re going to make sure that Shell has the oil spill response in place. They’re going to have a limited number of wells.

Then Shell has to please investors. It’ll probe the geology under the ice, define the oilfield, make an environmental plan, get Washington to sign off. It may be a decade before oil flows.

Still, an economic page is turning in the previously frozen north, says Malte Humpert of the Arctic Institute think tank.

Malte Humpert: Twenty years ago, the Arctic it was covered by ice year round. And in the next 20 years ago you’re looking at a new frontier, just like the American West.

That frontier is water free of ice, a couple months a year.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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