Given his poor reviews in multiple areas it’s not difficult to understand why Hillary Clinton would want to put some distance between herself and Barack Obama as she seeks the 2016 Democrat nomination. A good place to start would probably be his handling of ISIS and other foreign affairs disasters. But one dispute I didn’t see coming was her decision to oppose Obama’s rare moment of good sense when he gave approval for Shell to continue oil exploration work in the Arctic. And yet she’s apparently decided to draw that line in the sand now. (Huffington Post)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has agreed with the vast majority of President Barack Obama’s policies, but in a Tweet on Tuesday she expressed her disapproval with one: letting Shell drill for oil in the Arctic.

Clinton had previously said she was “skeptical” and had “doubts” as to whether the Obama administration should have given Shell the go-ahead for exploratory drilling. The oil company’s permit from the U.S. Department of the Interior allows it to drill in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. Shell halted its drilling program in the region after it lost control of a massive rig in 2012.

The only reason I find this shocking is that Hillary has previously shown herself to be fairly able to read poll numbers and she rarely misses out on an opportunity to hoist her political sails where the winds are blowing. Gallup tests this question every year and solid majorities support Arctic exploration. Still, I suppose she’s getting desperate to stay in favor with the far left, Elizabeth Warren wing of the party and to keep a few steps ahead of Bernie Sanders, so she needs to curry favor with the environmentalists. You’ll see an item from that Huffington Post staff reporter which has already been hinted at by Clinton’s campaign staff and will no doubt be repeated endlessly by the media. They refer to the fact that Shell halted its Arctic program a few years ago after they lost control of a massive rig in 2012.

That sounds pretty dire, doesn’t it? They “lost control of a massive rig.” It’s enough to send chills down your spine and rile up every Greenpeace type activist on the planet. But since you’re going to be hearing this tale dredged up again and again as this debate wears on it’s worth our time to take a moment and remind everyone exactly what they’re talking about. The story in question involves the wreck of the Kulluk, one of the biggest, most expensive and advanced ocean drilling platforms ever constructed at the time Shell acquired it in 2005. It towered more than 250 feet above the surface and had a round, thick steel hull to stand up to the Arctic ice. She was a truly massive beast indeed.

You can read some overly breathless coverage of the tale from the New York Times Magazine here, but even for all the drama the author summons up, they do provide a long and fairly honest, in depth accounting of what transpired. And to be clear, the affair with the Kulluk was a disaster, but it’s not the type of “oil rig disaster” which critics would like you to believe. The rig was towed to one of the most unforgiving parts of the Arctic Ocean to drill some test wells and prove out the oil reserves predicted to be located there. Unfortunately, nearly everything that could go wrong managed to do so. They were weeks late in starting because the ice receded much later than predicted. (You can never count on global warming when you really need it.) Technical issues caused other delays and much of the mission wasn’t completed before the decision was made to get the Kulluk out of there and back down the west coast before Mother Nature really got up a head of steam.

Unfortunately, the failures didn’t stop there, but it wasn’t a failure of the Kulluk. She was being towed by the Aiviq, a huge, ocean going tug designed specifically for this job. Unfortunately, as they began to make their way back from the oil fields, the Aiviq lost all four of her engines, leaving the two vessels tethered together in a 30 knot gale with very high seas crashing into them and driving them west with the current. The tow lines eventually snapped under the strain and – long story short – the Kulluk went aground on an uninhabited island. But what the environmentalists fail to mention is that this was not some environmental disaster. There was no oil spilled. The rig wasn’t even over the oil fields or drilling at the time. The rig never actually failed… they simply lost their tow vehicle in an early season storm and the winds and current did the rest.

Still, Shell learned a lot from that and have improved their practices. They don’t want to lose money on an operation like that any more than people want to see a rig failure or a spill. That sad story is no reason to abandon Arctic drilling, but Hillary and her team will probably try to make you think that it is.