Shell Oil’s three main components to their plans to get an Arctic offshore drilling regime going before competitors showed up went off the rails in 2012:
• The Arctic Challenger, their alleged cleanup rig, spectacularly failed its early September tests in Puget Sound, under idyllic conditions. It wasn’t even deployed to Alaska, which forced Shell to have to drill shallow holes in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
• The Kulluk, an ungainly rig the size of the aircraft carrier Hornet,that took the Doolittle raid across the Pacific in April 1942, was ground severely on the Kodiak Island area coast for a week, during winter storms.
• The obsolete and decrepit drill vessel Noble Discoverer had one problem after another, as it was forced beyond its limited capabilities.
2013 promises no changes, as the global giant is reeling from worldwide challenges to its rapacious business model. Additionally, its failed Alaska offshore season is about to be scrutinized more closely, and more publicly, than British Petroleum was looked at in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
In the first of what may become a cascade of U.S. government announcements, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday that they have turned their findings on the drill vessel Noble Discoverer over to the U.S. Justice Department:
The Coast Guard found the Noble Discoverer could not go fast enough to safely maneuver on its own in all the expected conditions found in Alaska’s Arctic waters.
The Coast Guard also found “systematic failure and lack of main engine preventative maintenance,” which caused a propulsion loss and exhaust system explosion.
Among other issues listed were inoperable equipment used to measure the oil in water that is dumped overboard, improper line splices throughout the engine room, piston cooling water contaminated with sludge and an abnormal propeller shaft vibration.
Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said he couldn’t discuss the details because the investigation has been forwarded to the Justice Department. Wadlow declined to say whether the Coast Guard believed criminal penalties could be warranted.
Shell announced early this week that the vessel under investigation is exiting the Western Hemisphere from Seward, Alaska, where it has been impounded since early November, on a dry tow vessel, destined for an Asian shipyard where, supposedly, it will be turned into some sort of perfect, or at least adequate ship, for extricating oil from under the Arctic Ocean’s floor. There have been no announcements on how the DOJ involvement in the vessel might have an impact on Shell’s tow plan.
Within three weeks, the U.S. Department of Interior will be issuing their 60-day reassessment of Shell’s Arctic drilling plan, which has been somewhat torpedoed by the USCG announcement. A negative assessment by DOI will set Shell back years, possibly driving their stock share price into a major dip.
Independent of the findings on the Noble Discoverer, the USCG will be conducting a mandatory set of hearings into the December 31st grounding of the drill rig Kulluk, off the south shores of Kodiak Island. That seriously damaged vessel is scheduled to be towed by two tugs to Dutch Harbor when harsh winter weather abates. From there, it will also exit the Western Hemisphere and American scrutiny.
Alaska Senator Mark Begich has vowed to hold hearings on this, but has backed off from holding them in March. His office told me Wednesday that it is looking more like the hearings will be in May.
I’m surprised that Shell’s Alaska management structure has remained intact though what has to have been the most poorly managed energy project season in our state’s history. There will probably be a lot of heads rolling there before the end of May, though.
What may be most interesting to watch over the late winter and spring might be the way politicians pile on to Shell, so as to show they “really care” about responsible oil development, etc. – while other oil concerns ramp up their efforts to do their own offshore Arctic projects.
And their political contributions to such politicians.
As a side note: I’m finding it more and more difficult to write about this and other subjects, here and elsewhere. I think the evidence of impending catastrophic climate change, combined with the vulnerability of global nuclear waste are far, far more serious than even most environmental progressives yet realize.
Increasingly, I feel there is nothing you, I, or anyone can do to prevent a catastrophe that will reduce the worldwide human population by at least 75% within the next 75 years.