In the meantime, environmental groups like Greenpeace worry about a phenomenon called "Sea Floor Scouring". That's a process in which massive icebergs occasionally bump the ocean floor. Scouring marks have been photographed on the seafloor -- off the Northwest Coast of Alaska -- and the environmental group claims that such iceberg activity could damage a wellhead and cause a blowout.
But Shell says it's mapped the scour areas, and understands the risks. It also says it plans to dig a 40-foot-deep "cellar" in the sea floor, in which to place its massive Blowout Preventer. Shell believes that by placing the B.O.P in a hole in the sea floor, it can protect its well head from bobbing icebergs.
Yet another environmental concern focuses on Coral Reefs, which are oases in the ocean which support a great deal of sealife. Greenpeace says that its manned submarine surveys of the Chukchi Sea show more abundant coral reefs than expected. The agency worries that those reefs can be damaged in even routine operations.
Shell says those concerns have been addressed in the Environmental Impact Impact Statement.
Finally, Greenpeace says that just the noise from routine drilling operations could interfere with the life cycles Walruses and Whales. Again, Shell says it has accoustic data that addresses any noise concerns.
But whoever is right and whoever is wrong in this argument, the fact remains: Shell has now begun drilling operations. And there are apparently no environmental groups on hand to monitor the company's activity in the Arctic Ocean. The Greenpeace vessel "Esperanza" left the Chukchi Sea weeks ago after a long summer of waiting for "The Disco" to show up. Earlier this summer, the platform's arrival was delayed by ice, then it was delayed by modifications to its containment barge.
The Disco's arrival last week was the culmination of 6 years of preparation by Shell -- at an average cost of almost 2 million dollars-a-day.
Shell says that renewed drilling in the Arctic Ocean has already brought 1800 jobs to Alaska -- with thousands more to come if the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas prove as rich as studies show them to be.
Right now the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the arctic waters off Alaska contain 25 to 27 billion barrels of oil.
If that's so, it's a find greater than Alaska's North Slope, where, so far, 17 billion barrels of oil have been recovered -- and which remains the greatest oil discovery in North American History. (Though the oil of on Alaska's North Slope is in a far more compact location than the oil of Alaska's Arctic ocean).
But the only way to be sure that the Chukchi is as rich in oil as it seems to be is to drill.
And that is what Shell finally began doing today.