Coast Guard to conduct rare oil spill response test in Arctic

With Royal Dutch Shell possibly on the eve of exploring for oil off Alaska’s Arctic coasts — and other companies waiting in the wings — the U.S. Coast Guard plans an oil spill response drill in the fragile region next week.

The exercise will be part of the agency’s effort to beef up its presence in the largely untouched Arctic Ocean, as ship traffic rises due in part to increased industrial interests in potential undersea riches.

Originally published on, Written by Alex DeMarban

The guardian of the nation’s high seas recently stationed two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and associated personnel in Barrow, a city of 4,200 where polar bears saunter ashore in search of food and Eskimo whalers in small boats kill bowhead whales as large as semi-trucks.

The choppers bring the Coast Guard 900 miles closer to the region, said Petty officer David Mosley, a Coast Guard spokesman. That’s the distance to the nearest Coast Guard base, on Kodiak Island in southern Alaska. The helicopters will be available to help with rescues of any stripe, whether that’s plucking dying passengers from adventure-tourism ships or snagging whalers trapped on breakaway sheets of ice.

Part of the Coast Guard’s new presence also includes offering help in the event of an oil spill, if needed, Mosley said.

Early next month, Shell hopes to become the first major oil company to drill exploratory wells the U.S. Arctic waters in more than a decade,though questions remain about whether it will have the permission or time needed to operate.

This summer, Shell would like to drill up to three wells in the Chukchi Sea 70 miles off northwest Alaska and up to two wells in the Beaufort Sea about 20 miles off northeast Alaska.

Other companies, such as ConocoPhillips and Norway’s Statoil, that hold leases to explore for oil in Alaska’s Arctic waters are watching to see what Shell finds this summer.

If there’s an oil spill — considered an improbable event in part because of relatively low well pressures in the shallow Arctic Ocean — the cleanup responsibility would fall on the oil company’s shoulders, Mosley said…

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