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Environment & Science

Song of the Week: 'Trapped Under Ice Floes,' for Shell's closing window in the Arctic

NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr

"I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska."

-Peter E. Slaiby, vice president of Shell Alaska, at the Arctic Imperative Summit, August 2012 (according to National Geographic).

Shell executives thought they were starting to get that wish about six days ago. The LA Times' Kim Murphy sounded an almost triumphant note when Shell began drilling a pilot hole under the Chukchi Sea: 

The oil company that has spent six years and $4.5 billion trying to launch America’s first offshore oil production in the Arctic announced that its Noble Discoverer had anchored northwest of Alaska’s North Slope and begun drilling the “top hole” of an exploration well. The work was the first step toward drilling a pilot hole that will go about 1,300 feet deep.

They had to suspend drilling just hours later. 

Ice expands and recedes with the seasons in the Arctic. Here's a hypnotic animation of one year's worth of winter, created by NASA.  

While ice has prevented further progress for Shell all week, at present a low-pressure system offers the company some specific hope for the waning days of the peak season during which it seeks to extract oil.

In the bigger picture, the record-low ice in the Arctic offers Shell some hope, too. NASA announced earlier this year that the thickest parts of the ice were melting the fastest. (That NASA link includes another great video that shows ice patterns spreading and receeding seasonally between 1980 and 2012.) The all-time observed low came on August 27, when there was less ice than in 2007. Since then it's kept going.

Less ice changes the drilling field, but the potential for accidents remains a concern, raised at this point by environmental groups, since the U.S. Interior Department has signed off on Shell's plans. Cluck Clusen of the NRDC writes

As fall approaches, freeze up will accelerate and ice floes over the drill site will only be more likely and common, while the conditions required to safely return to the drill site will be increasingly infrequent.

So the song "Trapped Under Ice Floes" by +/- (Plus/Minus) really only speaks to Shell's dampened hopes for the 2012 summer drilling season in the Arctic.

It's about a person, but legally, corporations are people sometimes, after all. Besides, there's another difference is that the song's lyrics seem to describe someone dying. Shell's hopes for drilling wouldn't die with the growing fall ice; they'd grow more costly, and stretch to another season. In other words: even if drilling can't start again this year, we're looking at a future where the U.S. government and Shell anticipate more drilling in the future. Without ice, they won't get trapped. 

So stuck inside...

Ice coursing through the veins now
through the arteries
cold from the neck down
your fingers frozen
is that it for you? 

Trapped under ice floes
Swimming toward the exit
Up from the cold
So numb you barely felt it...

All you can do to stop it
Is sink down
and hope that you don't drown
take a deep breath
and dive right into it 

yeah you're coming down.


Listen to all of the Songs of the Week