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Oil and Ice in the Beaufort Sea

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 October 2009


As the world's oil resources dwindle, the search for new supplies is touching regions of the globe previously considered too hostile for any kind of sustained operation. The ice-infested coastal waters of eastern and northern Canada are one such region. Already rigs have been at work off Newfoundland and Labrador where there is a long ice-free season and where drifting icebergs are the chief danger. Wells have been drilled on land in the Arctic islands and in one case from fast ice artificially thickened by flooding. However, a proposal to drill in the environmentally sensitive Beaufort Sea aroused widespread concern because of the enormous damage that could be caused by an accidental oil spill or by the blowout of an offshore well. People realized that the polar pack ice presents great dangers, that almost no information existed on the interactions between oil and sea ice, and that the oceanography and biology of the Beaufort Sea were understood only sketchily. To remedy these deficiencies a major environmental impact study, the Beaufort Sea Project, was undertaken in 1974–75 by the federal government of Canada and the oil industry acting in co-operation. The study also served the purpose of definng the conditions and restrictions under which the government would allow offshore drilling to proceed.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1976

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