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'Iceberg Cowboys': Exxon's Outrageous Plan for Drilling the North Atlantic

- Jon Queally, staff writer

It would be funny if it weren't so enormously dangerous or so shockingly reckless, but Exxon Mobile is defending plans for its massive offshore drilling operation in the North Atlantic—in an area not far from where the Titanic met its fateful demise—by claiming it has "learned to keep icebergs away" by lassoing them, pushing them off "with propeller wash," or other techniques related to the term "iceberg cowboy."

Hebron's giant concrete base will look similar to the one supporting nearby Hibernia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) As a CNNMoney report describes Thursday, ExxonMobil is currently building a massive offshore drilling rig for deployment off the coast off Newfoundland in some of the world's coldest and stormiest ocean waters.

The 'Hebron' drilling rig currently being built in a dammed-off inlet in New Brunswick would be taller than the Eiffel Tower, according to the report, and weigh more than the Empire State building.

And while Canada has permitted the $14 billion project to move forward and offshore drilling advocates say the US should follow suit by opening its North Atlantic waters to oil drilling as well, critics and environmentalists say that oil companies have proven over and over again that they are simply not equipped to deal with the dangerous conditions.

Moreover, say opponents, developing potential oil fields that lay under the sea bed in some of the region's most pristine and important fisheries is insane given that climate scientists have said that such deposits must be left where they are—untouched—if climate stabilization is to be achieved.

"The benefits go to the companies, but the risks go to the people," Mike Lavine, a lawyer for Oceana, told CNN. "We shouldn't be asked to bear those risks for the sake of corporate profit."

As CNNMoney reports:

Seeing Exxon develop oil fields for Canada is reviving calls for the United States to do the same off its Atlantic Coast -- which has been closed for oil and gas exploration for decades.

But as Shell's (RDSA) drill ships continue to run aground in the Arctic, critics say letting Exxon drill off the coast of Newfoundland or the heavily populated U.S. Eastern Seaboard is a mistake.

The risks: In 1982, the Ocean Ranger -- then the largest drill rig of its type in the world -- capsized and sank in nearby waters during a winter storm, killing all 84 crew members aboard.

Safety standards have improved since then, but drilling in icy, remote conditions remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the businesses -- as Royal Dutch Shell's ill-fated Arctic foray showed last summer.

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