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Shell's Plans for Arctic Drilling are 'Imagineering' not Engineering

WWF Issues Detailed Response to Shell’s Proposed Safety Procedures for Offshore Arctic Drilling, Set to Begin as Soon as July 1. 

Two engineers with extensive experience in the oil industry have stated that Shell Oil’s plans to begin drilling off the coast of Alaska in less than six weeks are fraught with risks that have not been adequately addressed by the company.

This echoes concerns voiced by WWF over Shell’s proposed safety procedures for drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Dr. Robert Bea, a former Shell official, and Susan Harvey, who previously worked for British Petroleum, expressed serious concerns about Shell’s drilling plans, noting that a spill in the Arctic could not be cleaned up. Dr Bea of California University, who was attending a briefing co-hosted by WWF, referred to Shell’s plans as “imagineering not engineering.”

Responding to these comments, Colin Butfield, Head of Campaigns, at WWF-UK says:
“The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has provided a stark reminder of the risks of drilling for oil anywhere, so the plans by Shell to drill in the Arctic where a spill would be even more disastrous are, quite simply, ludicrous.”

Shell plans to begin drilling in the Beaufort Sea as soon as July 1 and expand drilling operations to the Chukchi Sea soon thereafter. The company’s drilling vessel, the Frontier Discoverer, is expected to depart Subic Bay, in the Philippines, for the coast of Alaska within days. Nearly 700 leases have been sold in the Beaufort and Chukchi, setting the stage for what WWF officials have called an “Arctic oil rush.”

In a letter to US Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, WWF addressed Shell’s proposal, point-by-point, illustrating how the technology and procedures have not yet been developed to adequately respond to a spill in Arctic waters.

WWF’s analysis noted that drilling in the harsh, remote environment of the Arctic is far more perilous than in the Gulf of Mexico and that the technology and logistical infrastructure does not exist to contain and clean up a spill in the Arctic waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

As the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico continues to worsen, WWF has called upon President Obama and Secretary Salazar to halt Shell’s planned drilling until the Deepwater Horizon disaster has been fully investigated and the technology and procedures have been put in place to respond to and clean up a spill in the harsh, remote waters of the American Arctic.

Shell’s tar sands operations in Canada have also been called into question, with WWF calling on Shell to be transparent to its investors on the full financial and environmental risks of extracting oil from them.

WWF-UK’s Head of Campaigns, Colin Butfield, added:
“Concerns are growing worldwide about risky activities like deepwater drilling and extracting oil from tar sands. Oil companies like Shell not only need to disclose much more information about the risks they are taking, but they also need to look beyond oil to cleaner energy. Environmentally and financially oil will, in a low-carbon world, become even more of a gamble.”


For further information please contact the WWF-UK Press Office on 01483 412388 or 01483 412383.

• WWF’s letter to Secretary Salazar is available at
• Photos of Shell’s drilling vessel, Frontier Discoverer, taken last week of the ship in Subic Bay, Philippines, are available at
• A report issued by WWF detailing the oil spill response gap in Arctic waters, Not So Fast: Some Progress in Spill Response, but US Still Ill-Prepared for Arctic Offshore Development, is available at:

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