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How Shell’s Arctic Pullout Better Prepares Alaska for Oil Spills

Originally published in  Alaska Dispatch News By Annie Zak

February 6, 2016

Shell may have pulled out of the Arctic, but some of its leftover equipment will better prepare the state for oil spills.

Three Alaska organizations are working together to place spill response equipment Shell contracted during its Arctic offshore oil exploration in response hubs around Western Alaska and Prince William Sound.

Two nonprofits — the Alaska Maritime Prevention and Response Network and oil spill removal organization Alaska Chadux Corp. — along with UIC Arctic Response Services are looking at 14 Chadux-operated equipment hubs around the state to determine where the extra resources will go.

That equipment includes skimmers, booms to contain oil spills, minibarges for temporary oil storage capacity and small boats, which used to be under contract for use by Shell from ARS.

Buddy Custard, president and CEO of the maritime response network, said the three main hubs the organizations are looking at are Kodiak, Unalaska and Adak, though the locations are yet to be set in stone. The other Chadux equipment hubs are in Anchorage, Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Dillingham, Fairbanks, Nikiski, Nome, Seward, Valdez and Whittier.

“The reduction in oil exploration activities in Alaska’s Arctic has created a strategic opportunity to access response resources that were not previously accessible” to the network, Custard said in a statement.

The extra support will be especially helpful in some of Alaska’s remote regions, because ships that navigate through those waters may not meet federal oil spill compliance standards due to the lack of infrastructure, harsh conditions, and the time it takes for responders to arrive in those areas. Ships in these areas instead operate under an alternate plan to reduce the risk of oil spills in hard-to-reach waters.

“There is a lack of infrastructure out in (places like) the Aleutians for oil spill response, and this helps provide Alaskans (with) more resources to respond to a spill,” Custard said over the phone. “We’re keeping all this equipment that might have been deployed or sold down south.”

The process of getting the equipment in place at those hubs will happen throughout 2016 and 2017.

Shell  abandoned its offshore drilling efforts in September after seeing meager results from its offshore Chukchi Sea exploration.

The plan to use the equipment across the state is especially good news for ARS, a subsidiary of the Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation based in Barrow. ARS was founded in 2013 specifically to provide services for Shell.

“It’s unfortunate, from our perspective, for Shell to leave the state, but it’s fortuitous in another way,” said Peter Andersen, ARS general manager. “Coincidentally … we can redirect and provide really, really robust support to the network’s program.”