Editor, Out of curiosity (and the promise of a free dinner), I attended the “information session” hosted by Imperial Oil in Ulukhaktok the evening of April 29 to discuss their recent application to drill in the Beaufort Sea.
A sparse but focused audience – about 50 people, including elders, families and high school students – asked a lot of pointed questions. Sometimes the answers from the Imperial team were clear and specific. But the team’s response to a few difficult questions was, “We don’t know the answer to that.”
Imperial’s people assured us that BOP (Blow Out Prevention) was their main strategy for protecting the Beaufort Sea and everything in and on it. But we all know that strategy doesn’t work: BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 proved that. And, by the way, BP is one of the partners in this venture. Exxon is the other partner. Yeah, Exxon – of Exxon Valdez infamy.
When asked, “How many gallons of oil per hour will flow into the Beaufort if the well blows?” Imperial’s answer was “We don’t know.” They couldn’t even give us a ballpark figure.
Now, a quick Google search shows that the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill dumped 5,000 barrels a day (8,700 gallons per hour) into the Pacific Ocean off the California Coast. And the 2010 Deepwater Horizon flow rate was estimated at 62,000 barrels per day (108,500 gallons per hour) into the Gulf of Mexico.
So how come the Imperial team didn’t have this information?
Here’s the problem: If you don’t know how much oil will flow from a blow out in the Beaufort, then how can you say you’re prepared to deal with it?
The response time for a Beaufort spill, according to Imperial, is “3 hours to 3 days.” By my ballpark calculations based on the aforementioned spills, that’s a lot of oil flowing till somebody gets there. Best case scenario: 26,100 gallons of oil, pumped into the Beaufort Sea. Worst case? 7,812,000 gallons.
Well, I’m no oil company expert – just an old-time newspaper reporter. So, I might be wrong about that oil spill flow rate.
Maybe by the next meeting, some expert in the oil business will have a better answer.