Future plans for Arctic drilling still not finalized
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — A string of air quality violations related to Shell’s efforts to drill for oil off the north coast of Alaska have resulted in a $1.1 million fine — a drop in the bucket for a company that reported more than $20 billion in profits last year.
Among other violations, the EPA found that Shell failed to install required air pollution control equipment, showing a lack of conscientious management, according to conservation groups opposed to offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
Following the string of violations and other incidents, the federal government decided to scrutinize the company’s Arctic plans. Shell subsequently announced it would delay plans to drill in the Arctic for at least a year.
The permits under which the oil giant operates are set according to standards aimed at protecting both human health and the ambient pristine Arctic environment.
Earthjustice attorney Colin O’Brien said it’s not clear exactly how the penalties were structured.
“There were different types of violations, some of which were single occurrences … it was sort of a mixed bag of violations,” O’Brien said. “My rough sense is that’s pretty substantial,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the fine was intended as a deterrent.
“I think that some of these violations go to Shell’s lack of preparedness to operate in the Arctic,” he continued. In some cases, the equipment was hot enough for the pollution controls to work. “The cold temperatures made that a problem … it shows a failure to account for, and prepare for the harsh conditions.”
The EPA violation notices from last January indicated that Shell was conscientious about reporting some of the violations, but also that the company failed to install and maintain other required pollution control equipment.
“The permit limits reflect a cap on pollution limits for the entire enterprise, and for individual components … They’ve had several bites at this apple and haven’t been able to get it right,” O’Brien said in an interview in January, 2013.
Under the settlement, Shell agreed to pay $710,000 penalty for violations of the Discoverer air permit and a $390,000 penalty for violations of the Kulluk air permit.
EPA issued the Clean Air Act Outer Continental Shelf permits for Shell’s operations in early 2012. The permits set emission limits, pollution control requirements, and monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements on the vessels and their support fleets of icebreakers, spill response vessels, and supply ships.
Shell Discoverer air permit settlement: http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/airpage.nsf/Permits/chukchiap
Shell Kulluk air permit settlement: http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/airpage.nsf/Permits/kullukap/