Environment: U.S. Coast Guard report rips Shell Oil for runaway drill rig

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. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

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. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

Investigators delve into potential legal violations

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —A U.S. Coast Guard report says Shell Oil didn’t acknowledge or adequately prepare for Arctic Ocean conditions before the company’s Kulluk drilling rig broke away from its towing vessel and ultimately ran aground on an Alaskan Island on the last day of 2012.

“Inadequate assessment and management of risk” was the key factor in the accident,  Coast Guard investigators concluded, calling on Shell and its partners to change their company culture to avoid complacency.

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis co-sponsors bills to regulate fracking

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U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).

BREATHE and FRESHER acts would close significant clean air and water loopholes

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Saying that the rapid expansion of fracking in Colorado has outpaced the ability of state regulators to monitor health and environmental impacts, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO.) is calling for federal legislation to protect the safety and the health of the communities where the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process is already taking place.

“New technologies have led to the rapid development of hydraulic fracturing in Colorado and Pennsylvania before community members could fully understand the potential health, safety, and quality of life implications of drilling in their neighborhood,” Polis said, explaining that two new related laws would make sure that fracking is not exempt from the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act simply because fracking was not prevalent when these laws were initially written. Continue reading

Conservation groups request Arctic drilling moratorium

Arctic oil drilling Beaufort Sea

Sunset over the Beaufort Sea. Photo courtesy USGS.

Recent mishaps, lack of data cited in request for suspension of operations

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Citing huge data gaps about the basic ecology of the Arctic Ocean, as well as a string of recent accidents and near-misses in Royal Dutch Shell’s ongoing efforts to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, a coalition of environmental groups this week asked the Obama administration to suspend fossil fuel development in the region.

The letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came just a few days after the Interior Department announced a 60-day assessment of the Arctic offshore drilling program.

In a press release, the groups said any investigation will show that oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean cannot be conducted now in a safe and responsible manner. Along with equipment issues, there are still unanswered questions about the ability to contain and clean up potential spills in the remote, harsh Arctic environment. Those questions remain despite the fact the federal government has already signed off on Shell’s emergency response plan. Continue reading

Investigation sought on Shell Oil’s Arctic snafus

Shell Oil's Arctic drill rig, Kulluk, stranded near Kodiak Island, Alaska

The stranded Kulluk. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

Salvage of stranded drill set to begin

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even as salvage workers prepare to tow Shell’s stranded Arctic drilling rig, the Kulluk, away from where it’s stranded on the shore of an Alaskan island, progressive members of Congress say they want to know how the accident happened.

The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition last week called on the Department of the Interior and United States Coast Guard to conduct a joint investigation into the recent grounding of the drilling rig and related incidents.  Continue reading

Environment: Drill rig runs aground on Alaskan island

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, Monday, Dec. 31, 2012. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Shell Oil struggling with keeping control off its Arctic oil drilling equipment

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — While pressing ahead with plans for offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, Shel Oil has been unable to maintain control of its equipment. In the latest accident, one of the company’s oil drilling ships ran aground New Year’s Eve on the southeast shoreline of Sitkalidak Island, about 250 miles south of Anchorage.

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

Colorado: BLM presses on with controversial drilling leases

Conservation groups say energy development plans threaten agricultural, recreation values

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Oil and gas drilling leases are proposed for BLM lands near the Dinosaur National Monument visitor center. Photo courtesy NPS.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Obama administration officials claim that they want to tackle global warming, but at the same time, they continue to push ahead with new fossil fuel development projects, including several proposed lease sales in Colorado totaling about 115,000 acres.

The oil and gas drilling lease sales include lands bordering Dinosaur National Monument, as well as in the North Fork Valley, near Paonia, and conservation activists are not happy about the new trend of leasing in areas valued for recreation and agricultural uses.

“Helen Hankins has forgotten the purpose of her office,” said Ellynne Bannon, Checks and Balances Project spokesperson. “She continually puts oil and gas company interests ahead of the public she represents. Hankins’ leasing plan will leave the North Fork communities and businesses impacted by these leases out in the cold. ” Continue reading

Colorado: More time to comment on White River National Forest draft oil and gas drilling plan

A map from the draft EIS shows areas with surface-use stipulations in one of the plan’s alternatives. Courtesy White River National Forest.

Agency will take input through Nov. 30

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Colorado citizens and other stakeholders will have an extra 30 days to comment on the new draft oil and gas leasing plan for the White River National Forest. Released in late August, the draft plan cuts some areas for energy development and sets protective stipulations in other areas.

The energy industry sees the plan as overly restrictive, while conservation advocates say it still leaves too many areas open for drilling. The extended comment period runs through Nov. 30. Continue reading

Environment: Probe of Arctic scientist ends inconclusively

A June 2012 image shows sea ice breaking up in the Beaufort Sea, targeted by energy companies for oil drilling.

Investigation ends with letter of reprimand for leaking emails

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —A Kafka-esque federal probe of a polar biologist ended inconclusively this week, as biologist Charles Monnett got a mild slap on the wrist for an alleged breach of policy that was unrelated to the focus of the 2.5-year investigation.

No charges will be brought against the Monnett regarding his high-profile research on polar bears, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, but according to the Alaska Dispatch, the federal government still maintains that Monnett and a co-researcher may have used incomplete and perhaps even false data in writing a report about polar bear drownings.

According to the Alaska Dispatch, the Inspector General report also suggested that Monnett “intended to manipulate data to meet a personal agenda, including influencing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act.”

To this point, Monnett has received a letter of reprimand for allegedly improper disclosures back in 2007 and 2008 which helped reveal that Bush administration suppressed scientific information about oil drilling impacts.

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White River NF to hold info sessions on oil and gas plan

Public comment still wanted on draft version

A map from the draft EIS shows areas with surface-use stipulations in one of the plan’s alternatives. Courtesy White River National Forest. Click on the map to see the draft study, including all the maps, online.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A draft plan that outlines several options for oil and gas development on the White River National Forest is still open for public comment, and the Forest Service is holding a couple of open house session to gather input and help explain the plan to the public.

The draft plan includes alternatives that cut the amount of land available from 416,000 acres to about 260,000 acres and outlines strict stipulations for drilling activities to protect surface resources, especially in roadless areas, where no surface occupancy would be permitted.

After the 60-day comment period, Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams will choose from the options outlined in the draft for a final plan.

The open houses are set for Sept. 12, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Colorado River Valley Field Office located at 2300 River Frontage Road, Silt, CO 81652, and Oct. 2, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District Headquarters Building located at 301 Meadowood Drive, Carbondale, CO 81623. Continue reading

Draft report outlines greater sage-grouse conservation goals

Greater sage-grouse. Photo courtesy USFWS.

States, BLM trying to stave off an endangered species listing

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new draft report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may help provide a road map for greater sage-grouse conservation by identifying high-risk populations of the birds, outlining specific measures needed to avoid or mitigate impacts and setting population conservation goals.

The draft report is part of a multi-state planning aimed at protecting sage grouse and enabling economic growth, including oil and gas development, across the interior West.

The USFWS is working toward a court-ordered deadline for making a decision whether list greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. As part of that process, the Bureau of Land Management is updating land management plans across huge swaths of the West. At the same time, western states are also involved in trying to develop sage grouse conservation plans, hoping to forestall an endangered species listing. Continue reading

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