Documents suggest loopholes in state’s review of emergency response plans
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Alaska officials may have failed to adequately vet a tugboat under contract to Royal Dutch Shell before the company used the vessel to tow a conical drilling rig on an ill-fated trip that ended up with the drill rig running aground on a remote island.
Working in stormy seas at the end of December, the 360-foot Aiviq lost its towline with the 266-foot-wide Kulluk. Aiviq then suffered a complete engine shutdown. The Kulluk went adrift and ended up on the rocky shores of the remote, unpopulated Sitkalidak Island.
According to documents obtained under a public records act request, it appears that the State of Alaska’s oil spill prevention requirements did not cover the towing capacity for the Aiviq. Instead, the state only looks at the ability of the towing ship to be towed itself, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Responding to the records request, state officials said they didn’t have any information regarding the Aiviq’s towing capabilities, towing winches, tow lines, or associated equipment … because Shell never specified that the ship would be used to tow a drilling rig.
“In other words, the state only looked at what Shell told them to look at, not what was most important; the towing capability of the Aiviq,” PEER board member said Rick Steiner, a retired university professor and oil spill response expert. “This latest episode underlines the continued inadequacy of official contingency planning when it comes to Arctic conditions that demand we expect the unexpected,” he said.
Steiner previously helped bring to light that Shell’s testing of oil spill containment equipment was conducting in conditions nothing like the company might encounter during actual drilling operations.
PEER is also suing the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the agency overseeing offshore oil and gas operations, to force public release of the safeguards required to protect against such known hazards as sea ice, subsurface ice scour and blowouts, as well as specifications for well design and well integrity control.
“As events unfold, the more that is learned about the true state of preparations against environmental disaster in Arctic waters, the more scared everyone should become,” said PEER director Jeff Ruch, noting that the State of Alaska repeatedly proclaims its commitment to “responsible Arctic development” by requiring “Best Available Technology” in offshore operations, a standard misplaced for the runaway Kulluk.
“Alaska learned the hard way that trusting Shell can come back to bite them,” Ruch concluded.
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