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Shell Hopes to Resume Alaskan Arctic Drilling in 2014

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The Kulluk in happier times

Royal Dutch Shell announced to shareholders last week that they are contemplating a resumption of oil drilling in Arctic waters adjacent to Alaska this coming summer season:

“We have not yet confirmed if we drill in 2014, but we do expect to file an exploration plan shortly, maybe in the next couple of weeks. It’s likely to be focused on the Chukchi,” Shell Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry told reporters in a media teleconference detailing the company’s third-quarter results.

Shell reported third-quarter earnings that were nearly a third lower than those for the third quarter of 2012. The company cited numerous reasons for the drop, including weaker refinery-business conditions, increased upstream operations and exploration costs, challenges in Nigeria and reduced dividends from an LNG venture.

After an expensive series of mishaps in late 2012 and early 2013, Shell sat out the recently ended 2013 drilling season, as they licked their self-inflicted wounds:

The New Year’s Eve grounding of the Kulluk, the Shell-owned drill ship dedicated to Beaufort operations, was apparently the final blow to the company’s plans to operate there, at least for the foreseeable future. The Kulluk was so badly damaged in the grounding that it may never return to service. It’s been in a Singapore shipyard for months.

“We will not take the Kulluk back next year,” Henry said. “The repair costs may exceed the benefits of doing so.”

The so-called “impairment costs” for the Kulluk could be “a few hundred million dollars in the fourth quarter,” he said. Shell is replacing the Kulluk with a leased drill rig, the Polar Pioneer, Henry said. That ship, owned by Transocean, is semi-submersible unit that is nearly square — 279 feet long and 233 feet wide, according to Transocean’s website.

If Shell pursues Chukchi drilling, it will be done with the Noble Discoverer, the leased drill ship that operated in the Chukchi in 2012, said Megan Baldino, Shell’s Anchorage spokeswoman. The company intends to bring the Noble Discoverer back to Alaska, she said. The Polar Pioneer is intended to be the back-up rig available to drill a relief well, in accordance with federal regulations, Baldino said.

Shell has already spent about $5 billion on its Alaska oil-exploration program, but has managed so far to drill only the top portions of two wells, one in the Chukchi and one in the Beaufort. The company was forbidden by federal authorities to drill into oil-bearing zones because a mandatory oil-containment barge failed to pass U.S. Coast Guard tests in time for the 2012 drilling season.

Henry, in the conference call, said that vessel, the Arctic Challenger, now has regulatory clearance, but that all of the two dozen ships in the fleet that Shell would amass for future Chukchi drilling must also pass new regulatory muster.

The new regulatory muster they must pass is still indefinite, as not all investigations into Shell’s botched 2012 efforts have concluded.  They must submit an entirely new exploration plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a new marine mammal protection plan to the National Marine Fisheries  Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, clean air permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, and even more:

Shell must comply with yet-to-be-issued Arctic-specific rules for future oil and gas activities. Those rules are expected to be released by BOEM before the end of the year, and are expected to cover travel to and from the Arctic — as well as any activities by drillers. The rules are being drafted in response to a Department of Interior investigation into the Kulluk grounding and Shell’s other 2012 woes.

And the U.S. Coast Guard Kulluk grounding investigation has not issued its final report.

My gut feeling is that Shell doesn’t really hold out great hopes for 2014 Alaskan waters drilling.  Greenpeace seems to be thinking along the same lines:

Shell’s Arctic bravado is a desperate attempt to reassure its investors, but the facts tell a different story. Brushing off the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and casually scrapping a drilling platform are not the actions of a company in control of its operations,” Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace International’s Arctic campaign leader, said in a statement issued hours after Shell’s teleconference.

“In 2012 Shell proved it is completely unfit to drill in the remote Arctic, a place of unrivaled beauty where any spill would be an environmental catastrophe. In April, it signed a joint deal with Russia’s state owned giant Gazprom, one of the world’s most polluting oil companies with a record of serious negligence. Shell has run out of options, and is prepared to gamble its reputation on projects and partnerships that other oil companies have dismissed as far too risky,” Ayliffe said.

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Shell Announces It Will “pause its exploration drilling activity for 2013 in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas”

11:27 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk tow

On Tuesday, Shell Oil’s wounded conical drill rig, the Kulluk, was towed out of Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island, headed back to Dutch Harbor, and from there, to a Korean shipyard.

Today, the oil giant announced the following:

“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term programme that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said  Marvin Odum, Director, Upstream Americas.  “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.”

Alaska holds important energy resources. At the same time, securing access to those resources requires special expertise, technology and an in depth understanding of the environmental and societal sensitivities unique to the region. Shell is one of the leaders in an industry move into offshore Arctic exploration. The company continues to use its extensive experience in Arctic and sub-Arctic environments to prepare for safe activities in Alaska.

Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop.

Shell’s other rig which had been used in their trouble-plagued 2012 season, the Noble Discoverer, is berthed in Seward, Alaska, awaiting arrival of a giant floating, powered dry dock, which will bring it to an Asian ship yard.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, according to my talk with his D.C. staff last week, has moved his Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing or hearings on Shell’s 2012-2013 conduct from March to May, but provided no further detail.

The Department of Interior will be issuing their report on Shell’s permit to drill in the Arctic by March 10th.

The U.S. Coast Guard has turned their findings on the Noble Discoverer‘s severe shortcomings over to the U.S. Justice Department, for possible criminal prosecution.

And the blog, Alaska Chinook, is reporting the following:

According to reliable sources, a member of the Alaska delegation may soon be under indictment for back-door pressuring the EPA to allow SHELL to move forward with its 2012 drilling program – which culminated with environmental crimes. When it became known that contaminated engine fuel could not meet the EPA “Air Quality” permitting and such would have caused SHELL to vacate any attempts to continue its 2012 exploration program, a project that has seen a whole lot of discomfort and controversy so far, instead of not backing off and adhering to its permitting criteria, SHELL was given the “Green light” to continue on with its program.

Stormy weather ahead for Shell.

Food Sunday: Trying to Master Sourdough While Contemplating Catastrophic Global Warming

12:26 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Sourdough bread - success!

I.  One of my new year’s resolutions is to become a decent bread baker.  In many ways I’m close to being a gourmet cook, but bread making is something I’ve neglected.

I buy bread at the store.  I’m getting increasingly frustrated, though, at the lack of excellent bakery bread available in stores in southcentral Alaska.  When we travel to Seattle, Portland, Oregon or California, the excellent Italian and French style breads readily available from local bakeries overwhelms me so much, I stuff loaves to bring north into empty coolers that brought seafood down from Alaska.

The kind of bread I crave the most that one cannot get here, is the rustic sourdough loaf, with a crunchy crust, big bubble holes in the bread itself, and a tangy, sourdough taste.  So, I’ve started trying to make that.

In the past, I’ve tried various sourdough starter recipes – some using yeast, some using yoghurt, some just relying on time itself to create a usable, somewhat stable lactobacillus.

In light of the new year’s resolution, I searched the web for the most interesting sourdough starter recipe.  One that seemed quite strange, but fascinating, involved whole wheat flour and pineapple juice.  I decided to try it.  The site that had both that method and good word and video backup is called Breadtopia.

Supposedly, the pineapple juice starter initiator method was created by Debra Wink, back in early 2008.

Breadtopia’s sourdough starter recipe takes a couple days or more longer to get going than many others, but it goes like this:

Step 1. Mix 3 ½ tbs. whole wheat flour with ¼ cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours at room temperature. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. (“Unsweetened” in this case simply means no extra sugar added).

Step 2. Add to the above 2 tbs. whole wheat flour and 2 tbs. pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for a day or two. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. You should see some activity of fermentation within 48 hours. If you don’t, you may want to toss this and start over (or go buy some!)

Step 3. Add to the above 5 ¼ tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 tbs. purified water. Cover and set aside for 24 hours.

Step 4. Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 to 1/3 cup purified water. You should have a very healthy sourdough starter by now.

Back in early February, I did just that.  I even juiced my own pineapple for freshness.  The starter evolved just as it was supposed to.  I tried it.

The first time was a failure – the bread did not rise much at all over a twelve-hour period.  It didn’t taste tangy.  I figured the house wasn’t warm enough.

The second time, the bread rose some, but was still brick-like.  It tasted a bit tangy.

The third time, I tried mixing in rye flour.  The bread rose a bit more, and tasted tangier.  I didn’t call it a success, though, just “progress.”  I turned most of the loaf into croutons for a King crab Caesar salad.

The fourth time, shown at the top of the article, was considered a success, by everyone who tasted it, and the loaf disappeared quickly.  I followed this recipe like a fundamentalist Christian might follow the Book of Numbers.

Here’s what the replenished starter looks like today.  Yesterday, shortly after adding flour and water, it brewed over.

Sourdough starter jar

How have you done at sourdough bread making, or at artisan bread baking?
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Kulluk and Noble Discoverer to Both Be “Dry Towed” to Asia for Costly Repairs

9:19 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk

Kulluk on the beach

Shell Oil has finally gone public with the story first carried anywhere back in January by firedoglake, that their conical drill rig, Kulluk, will be taken from Kiliuda Bay in Kodiak to Asia for major repairs. Additionally, their powered drill rig, Noble Discoverer, berthed in Seward, Alaska since being impounded by the U.S. Coast Guard in November, will be “dry towed” across the North Pacific to a shipyard in Asia. Their destination is almost certainly South Korea:

Both the much maligned Noble Discoverer and Kulluk, who have faced serious mechanical difficulties since completing Arctic drilling operations off of Alaska’s Arctic Continental Shelf last summer, will be headed to Asia soon according to a statement from Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith.

The Kulluk, which has remained anchored off of Kodiak Island since its New Year’s Eve grounding, will be towed from there to the international Port of Dutch Harbor pending a tow plan approval. From Dutch Harbor, the 266-foot diameter conical drilling unit will then be dry-towed to a ship yard in Asia with a suitable dry dock.

The Discoverer’s operator, Noble Drilling Corp., will also dry-tow the Discoverer from its current location in Seward to South Korea.

“The outcome of further inspections for both rigs will determine the shipyard schedule and timing of their return to service,” Smith said in the statement.

When exactly the rigs will leave Alaska is unclear. A representative from Unified Command, the joint operation involving Shell, U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, could not say whether the vessel remained in Kiliuda Bay Monday. They noted that the latest information on the vessel was on the command’s website — which hasn’t been updated since Jan. 30.

A “dry tow” or “dry-tow” is movement of a vessel on the deck of a large, semi-submersible ship, or powered, floating drydock.

For some reason, the transponders of all the vessels in and around the Kulluk in Kiliuda Bay, were turned off on January 30th and 31st, two days after I announced the contemplated Asia decision, and the same day Dan Joling from the Associated Press picked up the story, so it is difficult to know where the tug Aiviq is right now, for instance.

Lisa Demer, writing on the new development early this morning for the Anchorage Daily News, notes:

It has big vessels for the dry tows lined up, and the Noble Discoverer will leave Seward in three to six weeks for a trip across the Pacific Ocean that should take two to four weeks, Smith said.

In a dry tow, a large vessel submerges through added ballast below the draft of the rig to be towed, Smith explained. That allows the drilling rig to float over the vessel’s deck, and the tow vessel is raised up, with the drill rig on its deck for the tow. It’s a faster method than towing on the water.

There are rumors that Shell is searching the world for replacement vessels, as it appears neither the Kulluk nor the Noble Discoverer will even be reaching a yard before mid to late April.

Investigations into the grounding and Shell’s 2013 Alaska Arctic drilling season by the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. Department of the Interior; the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard; and possibly the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, will begin within a few weeks. No precise information on any of these has yet been released, although the Interior Department’s 60-day review period of Shell’s Alaska operations ends on March 7th.

This story may be updated later Tuesday.

Photo by USCG PO 3rd Class Jonathan Klinginberg

Cost to Shell of Kulluk Grounding? $90 Million and Counting ….

1:38 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Shell arctic drilling deployment scheme

Thursday, at Shell Oil’s annual Results Conference in London, Shell CEO Peter Voser delivered a prepared address on the company’s global performance during 2012.  It included little information about the energy giant’s 2012 Alaska Arctic drilling season fiascos we don’t already know:

“Despite making some progress we have run into problems in the last few months. Our rigs will need more work if they are going to be ready for the 2013 drilling season. One, the Noble Discoverer needs a series of upgrades, and the other, the Kulluk, ran aground in a heavy storm on New Year’s Eve and has been damaged.”

After the address, though, Vosser answered questions from the press.  His answers provided some new information.  Questioned on whether or not Shell had decided to move the rigs when they did to avoid paying millions in Alaska taxes, Vosser tried to wriggle out from under previous statements and information available through Shell officials in Alaska:

Tim Webb, the energy editor at The Times in London, asked Voser if Shell was moving the rig from Unalaska to Seattle in order to evade Alaska’s oil and gas property tax.

“Assuming you say that’s true, because I think that came from Shell, would you say that’s an example of Shell not managing risks correctly, or making a poor decision in terms of managing risk in Alaska?”

In response, Voser denied that the decision to move the rig had anything to do with taxes, saying that the $5-6 million they would have had to pay is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

“There was a statement made by a Shell person, but in a completely different context, in a completely different meeting. That was then taken out of that context and then someone made a story out it. Just to be very clear on this one.”

The original story was written by Dutch Harbor Fisherman reporter Jim Paulin. In it, he quoted an email from Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith that was sent before the grounding. Paulin says he stands by his reporting.

“And I don’t think Shell would be backing away from that comment had it not gone aground. I think they would have been sending lobbyists to Juneau to try to repeal that tax. And I think that would be, in my opinion, the motivation for making that comment that it influenced their decision to move it.”

Reporter Paulin’s statement about Shell lobbyists in Juneau is, if anything, understatement.  During the same day Shell CEO Vosser  was delivering his annual report, in Juneau, the oil industry was flexing its muscle as it only can in Alaska.

The 2012 election brought an end to a Senate bipartisan coalition that dated back to shortly after the FBI busted a number of Alaska legislators for taking bribes from the major oil field service company in Alaska, Veco.  Although it was understood at the time that Veco’s bribers were working on behalf of oil giant ConocoPhillips, no employees from the latter were ever indicted by the Justice Department.  The crooked legislators smugly called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club,” and even had baseball caps made with the term plastered across them.

Replacing the bipartisan Senate coalition is a new GOP-run super majority that is intent on ramming through Senate Bill 21, which will repeal the most important element of Alaska’s taxation of oil fields here, and strip billions of dollars per year from state coffers and give it to immensely wealthy oil companies, like ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and Exxon-Mobil.

Tuesday through Thursday, the Senate Special Committee on TAPS [Trans-Alaska Pipeline System] Throughput held telephonic hearings across the state on SB 21.  About 90% of the testimony was in favor of not implementing SB 21, or of even tweaking our tax rate on the oil industry, which is at the bottom of the middle of the pack worldwide.
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Is Shell About to Kill Someone in Risky Attempt to Save 2013 Arctic Drilling Season? – Updated

3:09 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk Salvage Attempt Sit @ 1300 AKST - 1/5/13

The Kulluk grounding Unified Command released information Saturday morning that all but indicates there will be an attempt to extricate the stranded drilling rig from the beach of Sitkalidak Island sometime today or tonight:

ANCHORAGE, AK – Unified Command (UC) today plans to hook a main tow line to the Kulluk to test capabilities in preparation for recovery operations of the drilling unit. This plan will depend heavily on weather and tidal considerations.

The UC also plans to deploy boom, as a precautionary measure, to Kodiak Island, with special attention being paid to salmon streams connecting to Ocean Bay.

Unified Command has developed a wildlife protection plan to be used in the event that wildlife in the area is impacted during the recovery. They have activated International Bird Rescue to assist in bird rescue programs should their expertise be required. In addition, Protected Species Observers are being deployed on-scene.

As previously stated, all plans rely on weather and tidal conditions.

The Kulluk remains upright and stable with no reports of sheen in the vicinity. Salvage teams conducted an additional survey confirming all fuel tanks remain intact. Throughout all operations the safety of the responders will continue to be the top priority.

The map above is one I created, showing the situation as of 1300 hrs. AKST today.  I added the position of the Kulluk, as it does not have an active transponder.

The vessels shown on the map are:

1.  The Alert, a state-of-ste art tug, owned by Crowley Maritime, under contract to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, as a required Prince William Sound (PWS) response vessel for tankers transiting the PWS area.  It was the tug that was ordered to release the Kulluk during the storm on New Years Eve. It is equipped with a very high quality and capable winch system.

2.  U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, the USCG’s main Alaska asset for ocean emergencies.  It is most likely serving as the Unified Command’s local HQ for any attempt to extricate the rig.

3.  Pt. Oliktok, is a Seward-based small tug.  Built for Crowley in 1981-82, (I helped register its original compass on Elliot Bay in Seattle, in July, 1982).  It is shallow draft, with reinforced bottom, and might be helpful near shore.

4.  The Warrior, an old tug of Crowley’s 9,000 HP class, built in the late 1970s, mostly for barge towing between Seattle and Whittier, Alaska.  Currently based in Seward.  A tried and reliable design, but with older towing equipment.

5.  The Nanuq, a new oil rig service vessel, with large deck space and towing equipment that was shown to be inadequate last week.

6.  The Arctic Responder 2, a small Dutch Harbor-based oil spill response vessel, with very small deck space and no towing capability.  Probably to be used as a shuttle, should seas get very calm.

7.  The Perseverance, a supply vessel, whose role I’m unsure of.

8.  The Aiviq, the new tug built last year specifically for Shell’s Arctic operations, and whose design, performance and towing equipment are coming under increasing scrutiny.  Not to mention the political role its builder plays in Alaska oil politics.

You can go to this URL and watch the movements of the vessels named above.  In the 50 minutes since I took the screenshot, the Arctic Responder 2 and Nanuq have closed upon the Kulluk.

High tide will be around 6:53 pm local time.  At 8.2 feet, it is classified as a “holdup” tide.  Under normal circumstances, this would not be quite enough water to pull a wreck off a beach where it had just a few days ago been pounded by 20 to 30-foot seas.

I’ve pulled two valuable books from my library, thinking about how I might do this job:   Edward M. Brady’s Tugs, Towboats and Towing; and the same author’s Marine Salvage Operations.  I hate to say it, but these guys – today – are breaking more than a few rules.

Questions have arisen over the past few days over the fact that the towing winch on the Aiviq might not have been of a strength and sophistication to meet the specifications of the agreement that Shell had signed on to with the Federal government to proceed with the 2012 season.  More on that later.  Until then:

Phil –

FYI, I’ve just confirmed from Unified Command that the tug Aiviq does NOT have Best Available Technology (BAT) towing winch, which is a dynamic tensioning Markey Automatic Render & Recovery (AR&R) towing winch.  I will attach the PWS RCAC Aug. 2012 towing technology expert report, which discusses the BAT section on p.4 the following:

“The vast majority of operators agree that the electric-driven Markey Render-Recover© winch is the best winch technology on the market today.”

I believe Shell was required to have BAT in all its operations, and one would think that it would have outfitted its new $200 million purpose-built tug with the best towing winch possible.   This may have contributed to the repeated loss of tow.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the pressure from Shell on the USCG and the various parties contracted to pull this removal off this evening doesn’t get anyone killed.

Update – 2:45 pm AKST:  During Unified Command Press Conference, now winding down, Shell Alaska posted this youtube of their plan for what they will do if they get it off the beach:

PEER Sues BSEE Over Non-response on FOIA Seeking Arctic Drilling Testing Safety Records

11:04 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The crushed containment dome from Shell's Arctic Challenger

The activist watchdog organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), filed suit today in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, against the Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).  The suit, brought under the Freedom of Information Act, seeks to force BSEE to “disclose records wrongfully withheld in failing to respond within the statutory deadline to Plaintiff’s five FOIA requests.”

PEER, along with other parties, has been trying to unravel what happened in September, in Puget Sound, when testing of the containment dome apparatus Shell hoped to deploy in the Arctic later that month failed catastrophically. Although BSEE responded in November to an FOIA request from Seattle’s KUOW Radio, they have not responded to any of the similar requests from PEER.  Here’s an extract the environmental NGO’s press release on the suit:

The federal agency overseeing offshore oil and gas operations slated for this spring in Arctic waters lacks basic assurances that disastrous spills and other accidents will be prevented or effectively contained, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At issue are the safeguards required to protect against such known hazards as sea ice, subsurface ice scour and blowouts, as well as specifications for well design and well integrity control.

A relatively new agency called the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), within the Interior Department, has jurisdiction over offshore drilling operations in federal waters, including the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf. The agency, however, has not been able to respond to series of requests posed by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act asking for records detailing how BSEE will approach issues ranging from sea ice to spill containment.

“We have yet to see any evidence supporting the claim that Interior has upgraded the lax enforcement enabling the BP Gulf spill. In fact, what few records we have been able to pry loose suggest just the opposite,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization today filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “This material on operational safety should be on the world-wide web, not locked away in a proprietary safe.”

What little information BSSE has disclosed raises more doubts about its independence from industry. In September, following an earlier PEER lawsuit, the agency was forced to concede that it had done only partial and cursory testing with no independent analysis of the results for the capping system to prevent a repeat of the large, lengthy Gulf of Mexico blowout in the sensitive Arctic waters.

Since July, Firedoglake has been covering the strange odyssey of the Arctic Challenger, the old barge Shell is converting to one of the main features of its impending Arctic offshore drilling program.  PEER will keep us updated on progress of its five previous FOIA actions, and of this lawsuit.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced his department’s plan for petroleum development of the region of northwest Alaska known as NPR-A, an area about the size of the state of Maine:

The Interior Department’s plan for managing a vast petroleum reserve on Alaska’s North Slope calls for a roughly 50-50 split between conservation and oil development plus accommodation for a pipeline that could carry offshore Arctic Ocean oil to the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday announced that the plan will allow for development of nearly 12 million acres within the 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an area roughly the size of Indiana.

Salazar said in his announcement that the plan will guide the transition from leasing and exploration to responsible production and transport of the reserve’s oil and gas.

One feature of the plan Salazar introduced is that it appears it will tie in directly to the infrastructure Shell will need to develop to market the oil it intends to produce from its impending offshore production wells.  However, Alaska GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski is concerned that Salazar’s plan doesn’t give energy giants like Shell some sort of blank slate:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she remained concerned that the plan sets up hurdles for pipelines carrying oil drilled offshore in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas to the trans-Alaska pipeline. Salazar should make it clear, she said, that future environmental review of potential pipeline routes will not prohibit their construction or make them prohibitively costly.

In regard to the PEER lawsuit, it isn’t at all clear why BSEE responded to KUOW‘s FOIA, yet seems to have ignored PEER’s five similar requests.

In regard to Salazar’s December 19th announcement, though Sen. Murkowski was critical of the safeguards Interior seems to have put in place in the plan, Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Mark Begich, was less critical:

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said more than 200 exploration wells have been drilled in the NPR-A since the 1940s and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates reserves at 900 million barrels of technically recoverable oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Begich said in a press release that he was pleased that the plan included provisions to transport oil through the reserve but that the Interior Department has not cleared restrictions on petroleum development in the eastern portion.

From my perspective, it seems the Obama administration is bound to support Shell’s endeavors, along with those of other energy companies, in northwestern Alaska, and off its Arctic shores, far more than has any previous administration. Read the rest of this entry →

Amidst Arctic Drilling Lies, Shell VP Tells Truth – “There’s no sugar-coating this, I imagine there would be spills”

8:25 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The crushed containment dome from Shell's Arctic Challenger

Two news articles came out on Thursday and Friday that should concern anyone worried about Shell Oil’s plans to drill for oil offshore in northern Alaska waters.

On Thursday, BBC published a feature article on the status of Shell’s Alaska drilling project, which just concluded what many consider to have been a disastrous 2012 season.  Here’s Shell’s Alaska Vice President, Pete Slaiby:

“There’s no sugar-coating this, I imagine there would be spills, and no spill is OK. But will there be a spill large enough to impact people’s subsistence? My view is no, I don’t believe that would happen.”

On the other hand, he argues that oil extracted off the coast of Point Hope could make a big difference to America as a whole.

“It could mean a significant step in the journey to energy independence of the United States,” he says.

Sheesh!  Can one imagine back in 1989, BBC interviewing Exxon Valdez skipper, Joe Hazelwood, with him stating:

“There’s no sugar-coating this, I imagine there would be spills, and no spill is OK. But will there be a spill large enough to impact people’s subsistence? My view is no, I don’t believe that would happen.”

On the other hand, he argues that oil transported in his tanker across Prince William Sound could make a big difference to America as a whole.

“It could mean a significant step in the journey to energy independence of the United States,” he says.

Or BBC interviewing BP CEO Tony Hayward in early 2010, with Haywood stating:

“There’s no sugar-coating this, I imagine there would be spills, and no spill is OK. But will there be a spill large enough to impact people’s subsistence? My view is no, I don’t believe that would happen.”

On the other hand, he argues that oil extracted off the coast of the American Gulf of Mexico states could make a big difference to America as a whole.

“It could mean a significant step in the journey to energy independence of the United States,” he says.

Actually, I CAN imagine those people saying that then.  Slaiby and company had hoped nobody would ask hard questions about this past summer’s abortive drilling attempts, particularly about the spectacular failure of a system they had touted as “state-of-the-art” on more than one occasion – the oil spill containment dome built to be deployed on the old icebreaking barge, Arctic Challenger.

Arctic Challenger 1982 color adj.

I’ve previously written seven articles about the Arctic Challenger for firedoglake, beginning on July 27th, the 30th anniversary of the day I had made the above drawing of the barge, as it slowly moved northward toward Alaska’s Arctic, being towed by the barge I was helping crew.  The last of those articles was about six weeks ago, after the conclusion of hearings in Anchorage, conducted by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich.  Between those dates, I visited the barge in Bellingham, hoping to look at the modifications being made, and at the containment dome apparatus, only to be denied access, and followed out of town by Shell-hired security police.  I wrote other followups on barge modification progress fiascos.

In that last article, I published the text of a Federal FOIA request that had been submitted to government agencies by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.  PEER hasn’t heard back yet, but today, Seattle’s KUOW Radio published a report on the Arctic Challenger fiasco that reveals that they had taken the same action as PEER, but have gotten information back.  Here is the central finding:

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What Really Happened When Shell Oil’s Containment Dome Failed in Puget Sound Last Month? PEER Seeks to Find Out

10:03 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

(photo: hyperion327 / flickr)

Four weeks ago, on Saturday, September 16th, in clear, calm, warm summer weather on Puget Sound, something happened while Shell Oil was testing its new, post-Deepwater Horizon oil blowout containment dome.  The dome system was being deployed during a certification test being performed by Shell, its agent in the refurbishment and system makeover of the 35-year-old barge, Arctic Challenger, Superior Marine Technical Services, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

Something happened.  The test failed miserably, and the containment dome was severely damaged.  At the time, the Los Angeles Times reported the following:

The refurbishment was completed last week and the vessel underwent sea trials in Washington’s Puget Sound, and a series of tests were successfully completed on the newly designed Arctic containment system, Op de Weegh said.

“However, during a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged,” she said.

Sources familiar with the testing said the mishap occurred when one of several clump weights was placed into about 160 feet of water to mark the area of a theoretical oil spill, to see if the containment dome aboard the barge could be lowered over it.

“When they came back to find it, it [the weight] was lost, submerged into the silt,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation.

Engineers launched a mini-submarine known as a Remotely Operated Vehicle, which is part of Shell’s plan for putting any oil spill containment equipment into place, to help get the oil containment dome carried aboard the Challenger set over the “leak.”

“They got some of the weights set to hold the dome, then one of the eight winches on the dome became inoperative,” the source said. “They attempted to discover what was wrong by using the ROV, and got it tangled in the anchor lines of the dome and it sank into the silt.”

Divers were then dispatched to the sea floor to try to recover the dome without damaging the high-tech umbilical that controls it, he said.

It was not clear how much damage the dome ultimately suffered, but it apparently was enough to prompt Shell to abandon its well-drilling plans for the current season.

One of my confidential sources at the test site that day reported to me:

I’ve got more information from a tugboat skipper who was there, but he doesn’t want me to print it. He’s the one, based on being able to listen to the encrypted radio chatter when they were all tangled up, that called it a “clusterfuck.”

He assured me that this crew isn’t ready for a water park, let alone the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas.

On October 10th, Sen. Mark Begich held a hearing in Anchorage:

The overflow crowd also heard specifics on what happened to a Shell oil spill response system damaged during testing.

With only weeks to go before Shell Alaska wraps up its first exploratory drilling offshore Alaska in two decades, key players told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that the work went well and Shell has done an exemplary job despite some glitches and setbacks.

When the hearing got to finding out what happened aboard the Arctic Challenger on September 16th, a strangely different story emerged on what happened in the accident:

The barge-based containment system, including a massive dome that would be lowered over an out-of-control well, is the first of its kind and was on fast track for completion, [Shell Oil Alaska Vice President Pete] Slaiby said. It only became part of Shell’s required oil spill response after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shell and Superior Energy Services, the contractor that owns and will operate the 38-year-old retrofitted barge, investigated how the dome was damaged during testing Sept. 15 off the coast of Washington state.

“Our investigation determined that a faulty electrical connection associated with one of the valves caused the valve to open, which caused the rapid descent and ultimate damage to the dome,” Slaiby told Begich.

Safety tethers prevented the dome from hitting bottom, he said. The dome was nowhere near the side of the barge and didn’t bang against it or hit anything else, Slaiby told reporters during a break in the hearing.

“But buoyancy chambers were damaged,” he said.

During the rapid descent, the water pressure “deformed the side of the dome itself,” he said. Shell and Superior are working together to improve the technical aspects of the system as well as procedures.

“The design concept, however, is solid,” Slaiby said in the hearing.

The oil spill containment barge is the fourth line of defense, he said. Crews would first try to stop a blowout with drilling mud, then turn to a blowout preventer already in place, then a capping stack, a special blowout preventer like what eventually stopped the oil from flowing from the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

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