Photo by Arnout Grootveld.

Some of Shell’s newest employees are decidedly cuddlier than the middle-aged white dudes we typically associate with the oil behemoth. That’s because they’re a dachshund and two border collies.

New information reveals that the company has experimented with using three dogs — Jippi, Blues, and Tara — as a cheap and effective way to detect oil spills in the Arctic.

The dogs’ ability to sniff out oil spills beneath snow and ice has been tested and paid for by Shell — and other oil companies and government research organizations — in preparation for the industry’s entry into the forbidding Arctic terrain. The company hopes to begin drilling for oil off the northwest coast of Alaska in June.

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Because the Arctic is a remote place with extreme weather conditions, it can be tricky to use technology to detect oil spills. The situation gets even more difficult because Shell plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea, 1,000 miles away from the nearest Coast Guard base. Shell’s spokesman says the company is experimenting with gadgets like advanced radars and satellites to detect spills buried deep beneath snow and ice. But the company also commissioned a study on using oil-sniffing dogs.

While Shell’s spokesman says the company currently has no plans to deploy Jippi, Blues, and Tara to the Arctic, it’s not clear what they’re doing for spill detection instead. Shell plans to start drill-baby-drilling in the Arctic as early as three months from now, yet the company seemingly has no idea how it’s going to actually monitor spills buried deep beneath snow and ice. (They do have a response plan, at least, but response plans don’t do that much good without speedy detection.)

Shell should probably get cracking on finding a realistic and effective way of detecting oil spills, whether it’s radar or satellite or puppy or whatever. Back in 2010, BP took months to stop the Deepwater Horizon oil rig from spewing, and that was without any snow and ice barriers. Perhaps Shell is hoping it can find some four-legged friends who are cute enough to melt the ice with their adorable puppy faces.

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