Report finds serious flaws with Shell’s Arctic drilling program

Equipment failures, environmental violations and lack of oversight need to be addressed before moving ahead with drilling plans

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Feds tell Shell to rethink Arctic offshore drilling plans.

* More coverage of Shell’s Arctic drilling program

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Eager to exploit the Arctic for fossil fuel resources and to live up to shareholder expectations, Royal Dutch Shell rushed into its offshore drilling program without being “fully prepared in terms of fabricating and testing certain critical systems and establishing the scope of its operational plans,” according to a U.S. Department of Interior report released this week.

Key failures included Shell’s inability to get certification for an oil spill containment system  required to be on site in the event of a loss of well control. The report said the company’s failure to deploy the system was due “to shortcomings in Shell’s management and oversight of key contractors.”

The review was launched after a string of well-publicized problems culminated with a runaway drill rig that ended up running aground on a remote Alaskan island. The company is also under investigation for a string of violations of various environmental requirements. In February, Shell announced a one year pause in its Arctic drilling program to address the shortcomings. Continue reading

Shell to ‘pause’ Arctic offshore 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.

Company still committed to long-term Alaska program

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After a string of incidents, including failed tests of oil spill containment gear, runaway ships and notices for violations of environmental regulations, Royal Dutch Shell today said it will press the pause button on its Arctic drilling program for a year.

The company said it wants to better prepare its equipment and plans for a resumption of activity at a later stage.

In a press release, Upstream Americas (a Shell subsidiary) director Marvin Odum said, “We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term programme that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way. Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012,” Odum said. 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

Environment: Shell’s Arctic drilling rig still grounded

kulluk

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: 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

Shell delays Arctic oil drilling

Shell delays Arctic oil drilling.

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. Continue reading

Environment: Watchdog group says testing of Shell’s Arctic drilling safety gear was inadequate

Polar bears on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, near the North Pole. with the USS Honolulu in the foreground.

Government report shows cursory testing with no detailed engineering data

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some observers are hoping for the best when it comes to Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling plans, because the company clearly is not prepared for the worst, at least when it comes to testing critical equipment needed to prevent massive blowouts like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

After dragging it’s feet for a while, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement finally released all the information it had on last summer’s testing of a well-head capping stack system.

All the information on that test was included on less than a single page of typed text.

“I was shocked,” said Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor who requested the testing report under the Freedom of Information Act. “I was expecting 50 or 70 pages … with pressure tests, detailed engineering info, graphs … it’s a critical piece of equipment in a blow-out,” said Steiner, an oil spill expert and board member of an environmental watchdog group. Continue reading

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

Environment: Shell’s readiness on Arctic drilling challenged

Conservation group wants SEC to investigate oil company’s statements on plans for oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Environmental activists say they want Royal Dutch Shell stockholders to know about all the potential risks and liabilities associated with the company’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic ocean.

In a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Center for Biological Diversity charges that Shell may have made false and misleading statements, and omitted crucial information about its readiness to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

Considering the chain of corporate events leading up to BP’s massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s doesn’t require a huge leap of faith to imagine that an oil company may not be completely forthright about its activities, but the environmental group even offered specific examples of Shell’s preparations for oil drilling. Continue reading

Groups challenge EPA air quality permits to halt Arctic drilling

Lawsuit says Shell’s oil-drilling ship doesn’t comply with air quality regs

Environmental groups want to prevent industrial drilling operations in the Arctic Sea off the coast of Alaska. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Conservation groups are challenging proposed exploratory oil drilling the Arctic Sea at every step of the way, most recently with a lawsuit challenging an EPA air pollution permit for Shell’s proposed operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The lawsuit filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week claims the permits shouldn’t have been issued because Shell’s oil exploration ship, the Discoverer, doesn’t meet the latest Clean Air Act standards.

“As early as this summer, the Discoverer drillship and other ships in Shell’s fleet could be in the Chukchi Sea or Beaufort Sea of the Arctic Ocean drilling for oil in some of the harshest conditions on earth,” said Vera Pardee, an attorney with the Center. “Each year, Shell’s massive ships will churn out vast amounts of harmful pollution that will not only damage the Arctic’s fragile ecosystems but accelerate the climate change that’s robbing polar bears and walruses of the sea ice they need to survive.” Continue reading

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