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Environment: Arctic scientist resigns after battling his own federal agency over transparency and scientific ethics



Too much oil, not enough science ….

Harassment of prominent researcher likely aimed at stifling scientists

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A scientist who was targeted by a politically driven investigation has retired from the federal agency that is supposed to regulate oil development in the Arctic after settling his whistleblower complaint against the U.S. Department of Interior.

Dr. Charles Monnett, a senior scientist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was hectored for several years after publishing observations about drowning polar bears. The witch hunt ended in October with the Department of Interior withdrawing its letter of reprimand and paying Monnett $100,000.

“It’s a relief to be able to speak,” Monnett said, expressing his belief that the investigation was intended squelch scientific evidence that would make it more difficult to issue oil and gas drilling permits in the sensitive Arctic environment. Continue reading

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Shell hit with $1.1 million fine for Arctic foul-ups


Shell has ambitious plans to drill for oil off the north coast of Alaska, but so far, the company has not made a convincing case that they’re prepared to do that safely.

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. Continue reading

Shell Oil notified of multiple violations in Arctic drilling program

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter.

Company responds to violations by asking for permission to emit more pollution

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Environmental groups say numerous and ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act stemming from Shell’s ongoing efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean are yet another sign that the company isn’t prepared to operate in the pristine environment off the north coast of Alaska.

Most recently, the EPA issued notices of violation for failures to install required air pollution control technology, for failures to maintain and calibrate the equipment it is using and for violating emission standards set to protect human health and ambient air quality. Continue reading

Feds to review Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling program

The anchor-handling vessel, the Aiviq, tows the drilling unit Kulluk to a safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay, Alaska on Jan. 7, 2013. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

The anchor-handling vessel, the Aiviq, tows the drilling unit Kulluk to a safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay, Alaska on Jan. 7, 2013. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

60-day assessment will focus on recent mishaps with drill rigs and containment equipment

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After a series of serious mishaps involving Shell Oil’s Arctic ocean oil drilling equipment, federal officials said they will conduct a 60-day assessment of the proposed offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, off the north coast of Alaska.

The Department of Interior acknowledged the problems Shell encountered in connection with certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger; the deployment of its containment dome; and operational issues associated with its two drilling rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk. Continue reading

Environment: Shell’s Arctic drilling rig still grounded


The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer First Class Sara Francis.

Coast Guard fly-overs show no damage or leaks

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A grounded Shell oil-drilling rig appears to be upright and stable along the coastline of an Alaska island, with no apparent signs of environmental contamination yet, according to the latest update from the response team.

No details have been announced about how Shell plans to recover the grounded rig, the latest in a string of incidents and problems involving the company’s Arctic drilling equipment.

The Kulluk was part of the Shell’s test drilling program last summer. According to the company, the vessel is loaded with about 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of other oil-based drilling and mechanical fluids.

The incident started Dec. 28, when the tow barge, the MV Aiviq, lost power while towing the Kulluk off the coast of Kodiak Island. Crews were able to restore power to one of the Aiviq’s four main engines, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the drilling rig from breaking free and running aground on the shore of Sitkalidak Island, about 250 miles south of Anchorage.

A team of six salvage experts boarded the grounded drilling unit Kulluk Thursday to conduct a structural assessment to be used to finalize salvage plans.

The six-member team was lowered to the Kulluk by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at about 10:30 this morning. The assessment lasted about three hours. The Coast Guard helicopter and crew also delivered a state-owned emergency towing system to the Kulluk, which will be used during salvage operations.

Smit Salvage is heading up salvage operations. Smit is a highly experienced salvage company that has assisted in hundreds of operations worldwide, including the Selendang Ayu salvage that took place off the coast of Western Unalaska in 2004. It also assisted in the Costa Concordia salvage off the coast of Italy in 2012.

The information gained from the on-site assessment will help evaluate the available options for freeing the rig from its grounded position.




The company has also been cited for deficiencies aboard another drilling ship, as detailed in this L.A. Times story. Shell also struggled with required tests of capping and containment equipment this summer, leading conservation advocates to call for a moratorium on Arctic offshore drilling until the equipment issues are fully resolved.

Environment: Lawsuit seeks Arctic drilling safety test data

A polar bear in the Arctic. Photo courtesy Dr. Kathy Crane, NOAA.

Group says feds missed deadline for responding to FOIA request

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While federal officials say they’re satisfied with Puget Sound tests of Shell’s proposed Arctic-ready capping stack system, a watchdog group says some critical safety information hasn’t been released to the public.

The unreleased testing data could reveal whether there could be an Arctic repeat of the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico when Shell starts drilling in the Arctic, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The group filed a lawsuit this week to force the release of the information.

Federal officials said in June that the safety equipment meets new standards set to guard against another distastrous spill. Following the announcement, retired University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner, a PEER board member described as an oil spill expert, requested the actual Shell cap-test data under the Freedom of Information Act. Continue reading

Coldwater coral find in Arctic sea prompts renewed calls for more analysis before oil drilling starts

Greenpeace biologist John Hocevar shows a piece of raspberry coral from the seafloor of the Chukchi Sea near a proposed Shell drill site. To date, no form of corals are know to exist in the area. The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is on an Arctic expedition to study unexplored ocean habitats threatened by offshore oil drilling, as well as industrial fishing fleets. Photo courtesy Jiri Rezac/Greenpeace.

Greenpeace biologists say they’ve found previously unknown coral species near planned Shell Oil drilling site

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Oil companies and the Obama administration are rushing to start Arctic Ocean oil drilling despite warnings from scientists that not enough is known about the region’s ecology to be able to thoroughly evaluate potential impacts.

The discovery of coldwater corals on the floor of the Chukchi Sea lends support to the idea that there are still to many unknowns to proceed with risky drilling operations.

Greenpeace submarine researchers recently collected specimens of a sea raspberry coral (Gersemia rubiformis) from an area where Shell plans to drill in the coming weeks.

Following the discovery, conservation groups called on the U.S. Department of the Interior to fully analyze the potential damage Shell’s Arctic drilling could have on those cold-water corals in the Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

Feds plan Arctic energy science push

The Arctic holds plenty of oil, but the risks of energy development in the region are great.

New working group aims to coordinate scientific info for regional drilling plans

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Facing criticism for its approval of oil drilling in the Arctic, the Obama administration is boosting the role of science in resource management decisions regarding both onshore and offshore energy development activities in Alaska.

A new Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska is intended to function as a scientific clearinghouse for decision-makers and the public and is supposed to develop a  framework for an integrated approach to evaluating potential infrastructure development in the Alaskan Arctic. Continue reading

Op-ed: Corporate ‘Shell’ game on Arctic drilling

Permits? Now you see them, now you don’t …

The pristine Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Russia, viewed from a NASA satellite.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Facing pressure from shareholders to produce oil in the Arctic, Shell is pushing ahead with plans for exploratory drilling even though the company apparently can’t meet standards set to protect the environment.

Last week, the company said its drillship Noble Discovery won’t be able to meet air quality emission standards. Shell is asking the EPA to relax those rules, set to protect public health and the environment. Similarly, it’s not at all clear if the company can meet its obligations to clean up a spill with existing equipment.

With only a few short months left to sink those first test shafts, the only question remaining is whether the federal government and courts will play along with the corporate “Shell” game. Continue reading

Obama steps up plans for Gulf, Arctic drilling

When will we ever learn?

More lease sales detailed in 5-year plan

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Facing political pressure to step up domestic energy production, the Obama administration last week announced plans to expand offshore oil drilling, in the Arctic and the the Gulf of Mexico, which is still suffering the effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil.

The five-year plan schedules 15 lease sales in six offshore areas, including the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas, despite concerns about the ability to cleanup spills in the remote Arctic. Continue reading


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