Critical containment gear damaged in final tests as drilling deadline looms
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — After a whirlwind summer of drilling, melting sea ice and failed safety tests, Shell Oil has backed of plans to tap into oil beneath the Chukchi Sea, at least for this year.
In a final setback, the company’s containment equipment was damaged, resulting in another delay that brought Shell too close to the Sept. 24 deadline for oil drilling.
“It is clear that some days will be required to repair and fully assess dome readiness. We are disappointed that the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards; but, as we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely,” Shell said in a statement, adding that it plans to continue preparatory drilling.
“The time required to repair the dome, along with steps we have taken to protect local whaling operations and to ensure the safety of operations from ice floe movement, have led us to revise our plans for the 2012-2013 exploration program. In order to lay a strong foundation for operations in 2013, we will forgo drilling into hydrocarbon zones this year,” the company posted on its website.
Conservation advocates said the most recent delays raise new questions about the overall safety of the proposed drilling, pointing out that Shell’s oil containment barge still has not been fully certified by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We’ve always known that Arctic drilling can never be truly safe. These last few weeks confirm that drilling can’t be done safely for one month, much less long term,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Shell has also been unable to meet required limits on air pollution and in July asked the Environmental Protection Agency to waive Clean Air Act requirements. The company also asked federal officials for an extension to the drilling season.
Department of Interior officials said it was premature to issue an extension before all the company’s required safety equipment was certified and in place.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department will continue to work with Shell to ensure safe drilling operations.
“The Interior Department will continue to work with Shell as it oversees the company’s preparatory drilling work and other data-gathering activities in the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.,” Salazar said in a prepared statement. “The Department has set rigorous safety, environmental protection and emergency response standards for any exploration activities in the Arctic, and throughout this process, Shell has demonstrated a commitment to those standards.”
Meanwhile, new concerns about invasive species have surfaced in connection with Shell’s drilling activities. According to documents released by a watchdog group, federal scientists have warned that inspection and decontamination procedures are inadequate.
Instead, we will begin as many wells, known as ‘top holes,’ as time remaining in this season allows. The top portion of the wells drilled in the days and weeks ahead will be safely capped and temporarily abandoned this year, in accordance with regulatory requirements. We look forward to the final receipt of our drilling permits for the multi-year exploration program upon the successful testing and deployment of the Arctic Containment System.