Nel's New Day

January 10, 2013

Shell Drilling Would Destroy Arctic Waters

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:34 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

Shell Oil has spent almost $5 billion trying to set up offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, but the disaster at the end of December will hopefully prevent them from doing this—at least for a while. On New Year’s Eve, the 28,000-ton Kulluk, carrying about 140,000 gallons of diesel, grounded near Kodiak Island, Alaska, after losing its towing lines in heavy winds. The Coast Guard is coordinating a 500-plus person response to figure out the damage, but no one knows when or how they can regain control of the massive hulk.

One thing that is known is that Shell was most likely moving the rig in very harsh conditions to save $6 million in state taxes that they would pay if the rig stayed in Alaska waters on January 1. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) has provided detailed information about this situation. Bad news for Shell: it’s still in Alaska waters. This is the company that wants rights to drill offshore in Arctic waters.

Some of Shell’s 2012 problems:

  • February: A Government Accountability Office report identified challenges related to Arctic offshore drilling and concluding that Shell’s “dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region.”
  • February: Sixty members of congress, nearly 400,000 American citizens and 573 scientists urged the administration to halt Arctic offshore drilling.
  • April: Lloyd’s of London warned that responding to an oil spill in a region that is “highly sensitive to damage” would present “multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk.” (Does that mean no insurance?)
  • April: German bank WestLB refused to provide financing for any offshore oil or gas drilling in the Arctic, saying the “risks and costs are simply too high.”
  • July: Shell lost control of its Noble Discoverer rig when the vessel slipped its mooring and came close to running aground in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
  • July: Shell’s oil spill response barge, a key piece of oil spill response equipment, repeatedly failed to get Coast Guard certification keeping Shell from beginning drilling work on schedule.
  • August: Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil announces it will suspend its own plans to drill offshore in the Alaskan Arctic Ocean after watching Shell’s struggles. They said they were going to watch Shell before deciding to drill there.
  • September: A British parliamentary committee called for a halt to drilling in the Arctic Ocean until necessary steps are taken to protect the region from the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill.
  • September: France-based Total SA, the fourth largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world, became the first major oil producer to admit that offshore drilling in Arctic waters is a risky idea, saying such operations could be a “disaster” and warning other companies against drilling in the region.
  • September: Shell’s containment barge repeatedly failed to receive Coast Guard approval which forced Shell to postpone exploratory drilling operations until 2013 and settle instead for beginning to drill two non-oil producing preparatory wells.
  • September: Shell suspends drilling as a massive ice pack covering approximately 360 square miles drifts toward the site just one day after starting its preparatory drilling.
  • November: More than a week after preparatory drilling ended for the season, Shell experienced a number of complications when it tried to get its Kulluk rig out of the Beaufort Sea more than a week after the preparatory drilling season ended.
  • December: Internal emails between Interior Department officials showed that the September test of Shell’s oil spill containment system was not just a failure but a complete disaster. The containment dome “breached like a whale” and was “crushed like a beer can” – and all in the comparatively temperate waters of Puget Sound.
  • December: Shell’s second drilling rig, Kulluk, slips its cables while being towed out of Alaska waters on an accelerated schedule in order to dodge paying Alaska taxes in 2013. The rig, along with its 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid, washes up on an uninhabited island along one of Alaska’s most pristine coastlines.

Yet in June, June, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters “I believe there’s not going to be an oil spill.” The next month, Shell changed its spill response statement from recovering 95 percent of any spilled oil to encountering  95 percent of spilled oil with no provisions regarding what they would collect. Salazar now says the administration is committed to having exploration of oil in that region, but he isn’t sure it would happen this year. The Obama Administrations has ordered a sweeping review of Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic.

Drilling rig Kulluk, photo from Alaska Dispatch

Drilling rig Kulluk, photo from Alaska Dispatch

Why can’t people trust Shell’s offshore drilling? Here are a few reasons beyond the company’s preference to save tax money rather than the environment:

  • Shell has no idea how much an oil spill clean-up would cost. That’s the word from Peter Velez, Shell’s head of emergency response in the Arctic.
  • Shell’s barge, the Arctic Challenger, was not deemed safe enough by the US government. The 36-year-old barge used to drag safety equipment through the ice is “no longer appropriate” for the Arctic environment—according to Shell!
  • The U.S. Coast Guard is “not confident” with Shell’s dispersants in the event of an oil spill. The commandant said, “I’m not confident what it will do in the colder water up in Alaska.”
  • Shell’s drill ship runs aground in a “stiff breeze.” The Noble Discoverer ran aground in the sheltered and relatively calm Dutch Harbour, Alaska, in a 35mph wind. Both this drill ship and the Kulluk are old, rusty vessels, and the Kulluk was mothballed for the last 13 years.
  • Shell’s drill ship catches fire. The Noble Discoverer caught fire when it returned to Dutch Harbour last November; the fire had to be put out by specialist fire crews.
  • Shell’s capping stack safety system was “crushed like a beer can” during testing. In December a Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement revealed that this had happened three months earlier.
  • Shell’s Alaskan Vice-President admits: “There will be spills.” They just don’t know what to do about this.
  • Shell is more interested in money than safety. That’s what caused their oil rig, Kulluk, to run aground off the coast of Alaska while the company was trying to tow it back to Seattle. The Kullik hit heavy weather in the gulf of Alaska a few days earlier. Its 400-foot towing line broke and the rig drifted free. The tug managed to reconnect with the Kulluk, but it “experienced multiple engine failures” 50 miles south of Kodiak Island, causing the rig to drift free once again in 35-foot seas and 40-mph winds. The rig eventually ran aground on December 31, 2012, after another attempt to tow it away. The Kulluk has 139,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board.  Teams on the ground are currently still trying to secure the rig.

Tell Shell to stay out of the Arctic waters.


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