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

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.

Altogether, Shell’s laundry list of problems “have raised serious questions regarding its ability to operate safely and responsibly in the challenging and unpredictable conditions offshore Alaska,” according to the Interior Department.

The new Interior Department report spells out a list of requirements before any more drilling is planned, including a comprehensive and integrated operating plan — something that should have been done in the first place, according to conservation and community groups watch-dogging Shell’s Arctic efforts.

“It took a season full of mishaps and near misses for the Administration to comprehend the uniqueness of the Arctic region and the conditions the oil industry will have to be able to endure,” Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen said in a statement.

The report highlights that the industry is not ready to drill in the Arctic Ocean but offers little more than ‘recommended undertakings’ to address those problems. The report also fails to turn the lens on the Department’s own failings in authorizing such an ill-prepared venture,” Van Noppen said

“Ultimately, we believe this report should be a first step in a much broader effort to revisit the administration’s position on drilling in the dangerous and sensitive waters of the Arctic Ocean. DOI should not make new decisions about whether and under what conditions to allow offshore drilling until it has completed a more thorough review.”

The DOI report also calls for third party oversight of Shell’s management systems, a requirement that could be especially critical in light of new information that surfaced during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster trial.

The report also recommends that Shell develop an Arctic-specific model for offshore oil and gas exploration in Alaska.


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