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.
“I am most troubled by the significant number and nature of the potential violations of law and regulations … including the failure to report marine casualties, failure to report safety related vessel issues, and improper.illegal bridge and engineroom watch-keeping systems,” Rear Admiral Joseph Servidio wrote.
The report includes evidence that ship’s officers involved in the accident may have negligent in not following procedures, Servidio said.
“If the potential violations of law and regulations noted in the report actually occurred, far greater levels of oversight will be required,” he concluded.
The Kulluk was moved at least partly based on tax and financial considerations, even though some crew members expressed concerns about the towing operation, according to the Coast Guard investigations. The report also details multiple failures to inspect or verify the towing equipment, lack of attention to alarm systems, and major mechanical failures that led to engines shutting down.
“This report shows that Shell ran through every single safety and common sense red light in moving this rig because of financial considerations. This kind of behavior should raise major red flags for any future Arctic drilling plans,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Commerce and Environment Committees. “Shell should be held accountable for its reckless behavior.”
Shell was also cited for a string of air quality violations related to its Arctic drilling operations and was hit with a $1.1 million fine. There are also many questions about the company’s readiness to deal with a serious accident, including a spill.
Key findings in the Coast Guard reporton the Kulluk incident include:
• Financial considerations, including the issue of potential state tax liability, played a role in Shell’s decision on the timing of moving the rig.
• Shell continued to move the rig despite forecasts of increasingly bad weather shortly after departure on December 21, as then-Rep. Markey had asserted.
• Numerous deficiencies in the pre-voyage inspection of the vessels and numerous problems with key pieces of equipment.
• Personnel aboard the towing vessel expressed “blunt” reservations about the towing plan, route, and time of year.
• The USCG found that Shell’s tow plan was not adequate and the route taken also impaired the ability to respond in the event of an emergency.