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Chances of Shell Oil Drilling in Arctic in 2012 Diminishing by the Hour – Updated

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Shell Oil has already reduced the number of possible exploratory wells to be drilled this season in the Arctic’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas from eight to three, or possibly two – one in the Beaufort and one in the Chukchi.  Although they have deployed two drilling rigs into the Arctic this season, the drilling itself cannot start until the oil spill containment equipment on the barge Arctic Challenger is on site.

As of Monday, here is a short version of the current status of the Arctic Challenger‘s re-design and testing, in and near Bellingham, Washington:

Coast Guard officials say they’re waiting for Shell to finish nearly 200 items on the barge before they can be inspected. Those include things like electrical and firefighting equipment.

Another 200 items remain to be documented before the Coast Guard will declare the barge seaworthy. Then, after another federal agency tests the Challenger’s oil-vacuuming system, the barge can be towed to the Arctic. Shell says that journey will take two weeks or more.

Shell had planned to begin drilling in July. But delays in construction of the barge have forced the world’s largest oil company to cut back its Arctic drilling plans. Shell only has permission to drill in the brief Arctic summer.

Bowhead whaling season begins in late August. Given the five-week time frame described in the article quoted above, the barge cannot arrive on site until at least the first or second week of September.

Under agreements with Alaska Native bowhead whaling skippers and their organizations, Shell may drill in the Chukchi after the season begins, because the proposed drill holes are far from where the whales are usually hunted.  This is not the case in the Beaufort.  If only one whaling captain objects to Shell’s 2012 Beaufort plans, they will have to suspend or not start drilling.

A photograph surfaced today, showing an interesting construction detail on the stern of the Arctic Challenger.  First off, here is a screen shot from Google Earth I made of the Arctic Challenger, moored in Coos Bay Oregon, before Shell bought it and started modifications:

Arctic Challenger in Coos Bay - early 2012

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Thoughts on Shell Oil’s Arctic Oil Spill Containment Barge, the Arctic Challenger

8:46 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Arctic Challenger 1982 color adj.

Above is a drawing I made thirty years ago today.

It was drawn in Chatham Strait in Southeast Alaska, as the Crowley Maritime tugboat Sea Giant towed the Arctic Challenger from Elliot Bay in Seattle to Prudhoe Bay.  At the time, I was working as a deck hand on the Sea Giant.  Below is a drawing I made then of the Sea Giant.

Sea Giant 1982

The Arctic Challenger was built in 1977, to perform as an icebreaking barge during the Sealift operations that saw the construction of the Prudhoe Bay oil production facilities and infrastructure.  Crowley Maritime’s history page notes:

In the late 1970s Crowley added to its fleet the Arctic Challenger, a 310-by-105-foot icebreaker barge

The Arctic Challenger could haul freight, but its main purpose was to plow through the ice between Wainwright and Prudhoe Bay, should ice conditions warrant that.

Sea Giant and Arctic Challenger 1982

Near the bow there was a tall tower from which the “Ice Captain” was supposed to be able to spot leads in the ice, along with the help of spotter aircraft.  In the stern there were two notches.  They were designed to fit the bows of two 7,000 HP-class Crowley tugs.

Although the Arctic Challenger was not needed as an icebreaker in 1982, it had been tried in that role earlier, and was found to be poorly designed.  It didn’t draw a lot of water – 4.1 feet empty – so, after having been broken by the bows,  ice would creep along underneath the hull and ultimately foul the props and rudders of the propelling tugs.  Not good when you’re 3,000 miles from Seattle.

Crew members of towing tugs had been injured over the five years since the barge’s completion, and it was not considered to be a “good luck” barge in fleet scuttlebutt. It never really found a niche after the Sealifts were over.  It languished, being shuttled from Seattle to the Gulf of Mexico to Coos Bay, Oregon, where it stayed for a long time.

A 2008 blog entry by an Oregon blogger erroneously stated that the Arctic Challenger was “being scrapped out.”  I think the boat then being scrapped was an old Bering Sea trawler of the same name, but the blog entry gave a good picture of the barge:

4

KTOO radio recently published a photo that may be confusing or inaccurate.  It shows a vessel which is not the Arctic Challenger overshadowing a barge which may be the Arctic Challenger under reconstruction in Bellingham, Washington:

Billingham-ship-1024x767

The Arctic Challenger is what Shell Oil claims will be their Arctic oil spill response unit.  They are not joking.

Here is an artist’s conception of what it might look like if and when they finish revamping this loser dockside queen:

la-na-nn-arctic-challenger-20120719-001

Essentially, what you see here is a storage shed with really thick walls at the waterline.  It has never been powered, and none of the new articles about construction delays mention it as being anything more than a barge.  So, as an oil spill response vehicle, it is useless unless configured with its tugboat power.

Unless the problems associated with the hull shape have been addressed, what we will probably see when Shell Oil inevitably spills oil in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas will be a crew urged on by their bosses to go faster, cramming ice under the barge and into the power sources of the tug, fouling and bending the running gear.

Unless the problems associated with the hull shape have been addressed, the vessel should not be certified by the Coast Guard for Shell’s contemplated use.

I don’t think any of the reporters who have covered the Arctic Challenger have looked very closely at the hulk’s history, or interviewed anyone who has ever worked the rig in any of its previous incarnations.

With Obama’s Giordano Bruno-ization of Dr. Charles Monnett in Alaska, We See the Merging of the War on Science and the War on Whistleblowers

11:54 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Giordano Bruno by Jastrow

Two more organizations, neither from Alaska, have joined Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in search of more transparency in the Obama administration’s pursuit of Anchorage-based Polar bear expert, Dr. Charles Monnett.  Greenpeace US and the Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and White House Office of Science & Technology Policy Director, Dr. John Holdren, raising their grave concerns that Dr. Monnett is being pursued as part of a political agenda.  They have also filed Freedom of Information Act requests in the matter, according to a Friday article by Jill Burke, in the Alaska Dispatch:

The groups are using the Freedom of Information Act to look into whether any correspondence exists between BOEMRE and Shell regarding Monnett or his research.

Some have speculated that Dr. Monnett is being sidelined and hounded as a warning to others to keep their heads down, as the Obama administration prepares the way to open the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas to oil development.  As if on cue, late Thursday this was announced:

Shell cleared a major hurdle Thursday in its effort to begin a two-year drilling program in the Arctic Ocean next summer, receiving a conditional exploration permit from the federal agency that oversees offshore oil development.

The company said it was buoyed by the morning announcement from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, just as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was preparing for an Alaska visit next week at the invitation of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

That congressional tour, which will also include Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, will focus on energy issues.

The exploration permit covers an overall program that would drill four wells over two years in Camden Bay of the Beaufort Sea, due north of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The letter from Greenpeace US and the Center for Biological Diversity raises the spectre of Obama’s deepening and all but relentless pursuit of whistleblowers, which has been quite well documented, particularly by Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald, and The New Yorker‘s Jane Meyer.  Here’s Greewald, writing about Mayer’s most recent revelations:

Thomas Drake is a hero who deserves a Medal of Freedom Honor.  Instead, the Obama administration seeks to imprison him for decades while steadfastly protecting from prosecution — or judicial review of any kind — the high-level government officials who systematically broke the law.  Put another way — from the last paragraph of Mayer’s article:

Mark Klein, the former A.T. & T. employee who exposed the telecom-company wiretaps, is also dismayed by the Drake case. “I think it’s outrageous,” he says. “The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers.”

And that’s to say nothing of the full-scale immunity also given thus far to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Merrill, and the mortgage fraudsters who have essentially stolen people’s homes.  About what motivates Obama’s conduct — his virtually complete reversal from the campaign pledges — Drake offers this speculation:

“I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said.  He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”

But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”

On Twitter this morning, The American Prospect‘s Adam Serwer said of the New Yorker article:  ”Jane Mayer does to warrantless wiretapping what she did to torture.”  That’s true, but one could just as accurately say that Mayer does to the Obama administration what she did to the Bush administration:  expose its most rotted attributes.

Here is the Greenpeace-Center for Biological Diversity letter in its entirety (original is PDF – posted with permission):

August 4, 2011

Mr. Ken Salazar Secretary of the Interior
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240

Dr. John P. Holdren, Director Office of Science & Technology Policy
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Secretary Salazar and Dr. Holdren,

The protection of scientific independence and integrity is crucial to the creation of sound national policy, especially with respect to environmental and natural resource issues. We therefore fully support the spirit and letter of the President’s Executive Order regarding scientific integrity, and it is with this memorandum in mind that we write you about the recent suspension of a senior scientist at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Dr. Charles Monnett.

Dr. Monnett is responsible for undertaking and coordinating a broad slate of research into the distribution of marine mammals, including polar bears. This crucial long-term research has been approved by MMS/BOEMRE in part to produce baseline data against which to judge the potential impacts of proposed oil drilling in the waters off Alaska.

Prior to being placed on administrative leave, Dr. Monnett was subjected to an interrogation by criminal investigators from the Department of Interior Inspector General (IG) relating to his observations of drowned polar bears and the publication of those observations in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Based on the transcript of that interview, it appears that Dr. Monnett is himself being subjected to precisely the type of political interference in his work that the Executive Order and scientific integrity policy are designed to prevent. This apparent interference is originating not only from the IG, which has sent agents with no scientific training to ask decidedly unscientific questions about bizarre allegations relating to the polar bear paper, but also, as it emerged during the interview, from BOEMRE managers themselves.

Following clear evidence of misconduct within the BOEMRE’s predecessor agency, the Minerals Management Service, it was hoped that this reorganized agency, under Michael Bromwich’s leadership, would reform its working practices and usher in a new era of respect for independent scientific research. However, this incident indicates that the agency remains rife with problems and seems determined to restrict scientists from engaging in or disseminating research that provides critical information on the potential impacts of oil drilling in a rapidly changing Arctic.

This makes us question whether Mr. Bromwich, the agency and more broadly the Department of Interior are able to uphold the tenets of the Presidential Executive Order on scientific integrity or indeed the DOI’s own Science Integrity Policy, issued in September 2010.

We are gravely concerned by the allegations of political interference with Dr. Monnett’s work and other scientific research at BOEMRE, as well as by the conduct of the investigation against Dr. Monnett. This incident will chill other agency scientists’ ability to carry out and communicate their research.

We thus request your assurance that these critically important issues will receive an immediate, full, and open review by both the Department of Interior and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

We look forward to your response and thoughts on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Kert Davies Research Director
Greenpeace US
702 H St NW
Washington D.C. 20001

Kassie Siegel Senior Counsel
Climate Law Institute Director
Center for Biological Diversity
P.O. Box 549
Joshua Tree, CA 92252

Although their concerns center on lack of implementation of newly announced reforms in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which is the successor of the totally discredited similar office in the now-defunct Minerals Management Service, and of possible “political interference” in scientific work, those of us familiar with the patterns exhibited previously by Obama can probably read much between the very carefully written lines of the joint request.

Who would have thought that Obama could make the fundamentalist Bush’s war on science seem so pale in comparison?

[Editor's note: The original photograph, Giordano Bruno (and friend) by Fernando W, was replaced due to copyright restrictions.]