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Alaska Sen. Begich Finally Comes Out of the Closet – In Support of Gay Marriage

7:37 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Mark Begich at the Iditarod

On the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing of California Proposition Eight’s legality, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich has finally come out fully in support of equal rights for gay couples:

Gay and lesbian couples should not be denied the ability to pledge their love and commitment through the civil institution of marriage. I believe that two committed adults of the same sex should be able to receive a government-issued marriage license, while religious institutions retain their right to determine which marriages they will perform.

Begich went on to say, “Government should keep out of individuals’ personal lives—if someone wants to marry someone they love, they should be able to. Alaskans are fed up with government intrusion into our private lives, our daily business, and in the way we manage our resources and economy.”

Earlier Begich had been far more vague in his support.  He faces a tough reelection battle in 2014 against opposition surely to be led by the same conservative Christians who inflicted Sarah Palin and Joe Miller onto the national psyche.  Representative of these types, are some of the comments coming in at The Hill‘s article on Begich’s announcement:

This is Begichs last term !!! 

***** 
How can politicians continue to “evolve” on the issue of gay marriage when it stands as such an obvious contradiction to evolution? 

***** 
Looks like another Republican pickup in 2014, Alaska is one of the redest [sic] states in the nation, they elected Sarah Palin after all…

However, those of us who have long followed Begich’s hirings as mayor of Anchorage and in the U.S. Senate, and know his staff, understand Mark has always been very welcoming and inclusive.  Among his most staunch supporters among staffers and former employees have been several openly gay men and women, some of whom are my friends.  I remember back during the Democratic Primary of 2008, when I was supporting his opponent, Ray Metcalfe, getting several calls from gay friends (and other friends) who urged me to look more deeply into Mark’s record and qualifications.

Begich’s endorsement wasn’t the only recent one from a previously less committed Democrat, but Business Insider noted it as “perhaps the most significant,” because of Begich’s upcoming reelection campaign.

With national-level GOP strategists claiming their party needs to be more inclusive, the GOP reaction to Begich’s statement and further actions might give us some idea of how the party might choose to enforce their drive to move from the 19th to the 21st century.

Read the rest of this entry →

Sen. Begich, U.S. House, Interior Department and USCG All to Investigate Shell Alaska and Kulluk Grounding

3:02 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Portrait of Mark Begich

Senator Mark Begich of Alaska announced an investigation into the grounding of the Kulluk.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D), the Department of the Interior and the United States Coast Guard all announced Tuesday that they will be investigating aspects of the New Years Eve grounding of Shell Alaska’s Arctic oil drilling rig, Kulluk, on an island off of Kodiak.

Last week, Rep. Ed Markey (D – Mass), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, along with other House Democrats in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment coalition indicated they hope for a House probe:

The coalition is made up of 45 House Democrats.

“The recent grounding of Shell’s Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic,” they said in a joint statement. “This is the latest in a series of alarming blunders, including the near-grounding of another of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor and the failure of its blowout containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, in lake-like conditions.”

The coalition believes these “serious incidents” warrant thorough investigation, the statement said.

We’ll see if Markey can get the GOP-controlled HCNR to formally investigate this.  I have my doubts. Alaska Rep. Don Young is a senior GOP member of the committee, and he will do everything he can to keep anything from getting in Shell’s way.  However, Markey, who has let it be known he is considering a run to take Sen. John Kerry’s place in the Senate, will push this hard.

The U.S. Coast Guard investigation of the Kulluk‘s grounding is inevitable.  The announcement today is no surprise:

The Coast Guard has ordered a marine casualty investigation of the Shell Oil-contracted drilling rig Kulluk’s Dec. 31 grounding on Sitkalidak Island, a day after it was safely towed to an anchorage about 30 miles away.

A Tuesday statement says the investigation, ordered by Coast Guard 17th District commander Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, will be led by a Coast Guard investigator. It will receive support and technical advice from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board.

“In accordance with statute, the formal investigation will probe every aspect of the incident, to include but not limited to the causes of the incident, whether there is evidence that any failure of material was involved or contributed to the incident or whether there is evidence of misconduct, inattention, negligence (or) willful violation of the law,” officials wrote.

We’ll get to hear the crew of the Kulluk and Aiviq testify.  Under oath.

Within the past hour, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it will conduct a review of Shell Alaska:

The Interior Department is launching a “high-level,” 60-day review of Shell’s troubled 2012 attempts to look for oil off Alaska’s northern coast after the company experienced a series of mishaps.

The review arrives a week after Shell’s Kulluk drillship ran aground en route back from the Arctic region, and as Interior is under pressure from green activists to block 2013 drilling off Alaska’s coast.

Sen. Begich issued a press release this morning, which links to the formal letter he has sent to Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil USA and Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the USCG.  Begich issued the notice in his capacity as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.  This is from his press release:

Read the rest of this entry →

List of Questions on Shell’s Alaska 2012 Arctic Drilling Fiasco Grows Longer by the Day

2:18 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk aground

Back on July 27th, when I first started covering aspects of Shell Alaska’s plans to begin offshore drilling off our coasts up here, I already had questions.  That day, I wrote, reminiscing about what I knew of the spill response barge Arctic Challenger back in 1982 :

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.

The next week I went to Bellingham harbor, where the barge was being outfitted with a new, untried piece of equipment.  Shell didn’t answer my calls for an appointment request, so I showed up at 7:45 am at the security office, and managed to get inside two layers of security before a gatekeeper decided I had the look of somebody who might be asking too many questions.  He was right.

Shell refused to let me photograph or even view the work being done on the Challenger and its containment dome apparatus.  Instead:

[The project director] flatly told me “No,” and I was not allowed to take any photographs of the vessel.  He assured me that Shell Oil will be contacting me soon with more information.

The ambience of the work place there reminded me very much of projects in the past where I have worked that are seriously behind schedule and nervous of potential outcomes.

I was followed by private police until I left Bellingham.

Although Shell wasn’t ready to share their work with me, it proved impossible to hide either the vessel’s dismal history or its shortcomings from the public.  Longtime Alaska reporter, Alex De Marban, wrote in mid-August, that in 2007, while rusting away in Long Beach, California harbor, the Arctic Challenger attracted so many birds, it was temporarily declared a “bird sanctuary” for Caspian terns:

At one point, hundreds of Caspian terns, gulls, cormorants, pelicans, ravens, crows and even an owl turned the 300-foot barge into a giant’s bird nest, coating the deck with bird dung and other gunk. That was in California’s Long Beach Harbor in 2007, where the downtrodden vessel became a bit of a media celebrity as wildlife regulators raced to save the protected terns and their chicks.

De Marban didn’t have many questions in mid-August, but he noted that others did: Read the rest of this entry →

Shell Oil Rig Kulluk Being Ground into Razor Blades on Rocky Alaska Beach. Questions Arise.

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk on the beach 01:01:13

The marine weather forecast seemed good enough for mid or late December, when the oceangoing tug Aiviq began towing the cumbersome giant oil drilling platform Kulluk out of Dutch Harbor on the eve of the Winter Solstice:

The Kulluk left Dutch Harbor, a staging port for Shell, the afternoon of Dec. 21 under tow by the Aiviq, headed to the Seattle area for off-season maintenance. The weather forecast for the next few days was typical, even a bit tame, for winter along the Aleutian chain and into the Gulf of Alaska: Winds of 17 to 35 mph, seas of 7 to 15 feet.

“Toward Kodiak Island, there was nothing of real significance,” said Sam Albanese, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “It was a pretty benign forecast.”

But by the afternoon of Dec. 25, the outlook had shifted from a prediction of more gale-force winds to a near storm at sea with winds topping 50 mph, he said.

And that’s what hit the Kulluk and the Aiviq last week.

By Saturday night, the winds were near hurricane force, the Coast Guard said.

Things got worse, as the lines attached from the tug to the rig parted on four occasions, between Thursday evening and Monday night:

As the Kulluk headed to the Lower 48 on Thursday, the tow shackle failed between the drilling rig and its tug — Shell’s Aiviq. A second towline was attached, but later the engines on the Aiviq failed, leaving the two vessels adrift at sea. The 266-foot diameter Kulluk has no propulsion system of its own.

Another ship, the Coast Guard’s 282-foot cutter Alex Haley, was dispatched to reconnect the towline. However, 35-foot seas and 40-mph winds, coupled with the size of the vessels, caused the towline to disconnect, and the Haley retreated to Kodiak for repairs. On Sunday, the Kulluk’s 18-person crew was evacuated.

Then, after dispatching yet another ship — the Prince William Sound-based Alert tug — the Kulluk was reconnected to its tow vessels early Monday. Later Monday morning, the Aiviq tug also re-established its connection to the Kulluk about 19 miles southeast of Kodiak Island, but lost its link later in the day.

By Monday evening, the Coast Guard was planning to tow the Kulluk to safe harbor at Port Hobron on the southeast side of Kodiak Island, as well as deploy several technicians on board the Kulluk to inspect the tow lines on the rig.

As the weather worsened, the Alert tug’s crew, which was struggling to tow the Kulluk on its own, was order to separate from the rig. By 9 p.m., the Kulluk was sitting in the surf at rocky Ocean Bay, its draft having run aground.

Over night, Monday-Tuesday, the worst of the present storm seemed to play out, but there is still a large swell coming onshore at the place of the stranding.

Within two hours of the grounding, the so-called Unified Command, comprising Shell Alaska, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Noble Drilling, held a press notification event at the expanded response headquarters, in Anchorage’s Marriot Hotel.  About 250 people are involved in the Anchorage-based efforts.  In a conference convened Tuesday at 2:00 local time, again at the Anchorage Marriott, it was claimed that over 500 people are currently involved in facets of the response.

As events have unfolded and been made public Tuesday, there have been several responses from the Alaska environmental community, from the head of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Ed Markey, but nothing substantive from Alaska’s U.S. Congressional delegation, who have been totally supportive of Shell’s Arctic drilling venture.

This morning Markey said “the accident revealed that ‘drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment.’”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski made a brief comment:

Read the rest of this entry →

Shell Drill Rig Kulluk Breaks Tow Lines – Adrift Again Sunday Night – Updated X 3

10:18 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk adrift

I.  Early Sunday evening (Alaska time) the Shell-leased Arctic drilling rig Kulluk parted the lines from both tugs which had again begun towing the vessel early Sunday.  In heavy seas, with all crew having been evacuated late Saturday, the rig is unmanned.  It is trailing parts of the parted lines.  However, with no hands aboard the rig to man winches, prospects for recovering the rig in worsening seas are both dim and highly dangerous.  The Kulluk has been reported this evening to be only 20 miles to the south of the nearest rocks on Kodiak’s coasts, with winds and waves pushing it toward probable demise.  Lisa Demer, of the  Anchorage Daily News, reports it in a slightly different position:

With no towlines securing it in place, the crew-less Kulluk is drifting about 20 miles south of Sitkinak Island, part of the Trinity Islands, south of Kodiak. Smith said early Sunday evening that he had not yet been briefed on how many hours it would take the Kulluk to reach shore if it continues adrift. A number of variables, including currents and wind speed, would affect when and where it hit, if it came to that, he noted. He said he would provide the information when he gets it.

The superstructure is massive, adding a lot of sail to the wind’s effect.

Earlier today, I telephonically attended a hastily convened press conference that was held in Anchorage’s Frontier Building.  Asking questions at the presser were Lisa Demer from the Anchorage Daily News, and Rachel D’Oro, from the Associated Press.  Both had just filed stories on the press event when the news of further disaster became known, and both have updated their stories within the past hour.

From Demer’s updated story, it appears the lines parted almost exactly when the 1:00 pm AST press conference started:

An unmanned mobile oil drilling rig owned by Royal Dutch Shell is adrift — again — south of Kodiak Island after it lost towlines Sunday afternoon from two vessels trying to hold it in place against what have been pummeling winds and high seas, according to incident management leaders.

A team of 250 people from the Coast Guard, the state of Alaska, Royal Dutch Shell, and one of its contractors was hunkered down Sunday, mainly in Midtown Anchorage’s Frontier Building, trying to resolve the ongoing crisis with the Shell-owned drilling rig, the Kulluk.

Before the latest turn for the worse, representatives of the Coast Guard, Shell and the state Department of Environmental Conservation told reporters in a briefing early Sunday afternoon that the situation was critical, but under control.

Then tow lines from the Aiviq and a second support vessel, the Nanuq “separated,” the joint command team said in a statement sent out at about 4:30 p.m. The setback happened sometime after 1 p.m., just as commanders were briefing news media on what appeared at that point to be a successful response after a series of failures. They didn’t yet know the towlines had broken free, said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith, who is part of the unified incident command team.

Demer also noted the somewhat forced optimism I described in my comments posted at firedoglake during the conference.

[Please do not use Associated Press sources on MyFDL. -MyFDL Editor]

II.  Shell and its contractors deserve no praise whatsoever.  I’ve been following the deployments, misuse, problems, fiascos and clusterfucks of the vessels of this operation since July.  If there is but one clear message Shell has sent this year regarding its ability to safely drill off Alaska’s Arctic Coast, it is this – We are a major disaster waiting to happen! 

Lisa Demer expands on this, perhaps unintentionally:

The incident team also must find a safe harbor for the Aiviq, as well as the Kulluk, to undergo inspections and possible repairs before heading south to Everett, Wash., where the Kulluk had been headed for off-season maintenance before the troubles began.

……

Shell has had a difficult experience as it tries to drill offshore in the Alaska Arctic. It couldn’t drill to oil-rich zones because its novel oil spill containment dome was damaged during testing. Its other drilling rig, a converted log carrier called the Noble Discoverer, recently was cited by the Coast Guard for problems with safety and pollution discharge equipment. Mehler ordered it held in Seward while the most serious issues were addressed. While the ship now is free to leave for Seattle, it remains docked in Seward because it is waiting for escort vessels now working on the Kulluk situation, Smith said.

The other main element of Shell’s hapless Arctic drilling fleet that has made a lot of news in 2012 is the icebreaking barge Arctic Challenger, which didn’t even make it to Northern waters this season because of the disastrous testing failure of its capping dome unit in Puget Sound, Washington in early September, on a perfectly calm, sunny, waveless day.  It is beginning to look like a good thing that the Arctic Challenger didn’t make it up to Alaska, adding a third vessel to Shell’s already over-stretched capabilities for safe movement in risky waters.

When you add this whole package of failure after failure up, it equals incompetence at best, criminally negligent planning and engineering lapses at worst.

I’ll try to keep you updated here.  Not hoping for the Kulluk ending up in the rocks, but I am hoping that this incident wakes up a lot of people.  The only elected official to hold a hearing on Shell’s lapses yet has been Alaska U.S. Senator Mark Begich.  My usual contact with Mark’s office is in the hospital after multiple bypass surgery (praying for you, Mary!), so I’ll find out elsewhere if he is as outraged as we all should be about this serial malfeasance from Shell and its agents.

Update – Monday 9:30 am Alaska Time:  The Aiviq and Alert managed to grab on to the broken lines just after midnight Alaska Time:

Anchorage, Alaska – The Kulluk drilling vessel is under tow by the Aiviq and tug Alert. All three vessels are currently located about 19 miles southeast of Kodiak Island.

At approximately 12:45 a.m., Monday, Dec. 31, the Alert was able to secure the 400-foot line that was previously the tow line used by the Aiviq. The Alert successfully added tension to the line to test its ability to hold.

Later in the morning, the Aiviq also restored its connection to the Kulluk.

Ensuring the safety of personnel and protecting the area’s environment continue to be of the utmost importance.

Difficult weather conditions are anticipated to continue over the next several days. Unified Command is evaluating all potential options to further secure the vessel until the weather clears.

Update – 3:30 pm Alaska time:  

from KTUU TV in Anchorage:

Crews have reestablished tow lines for an unmanned Shell drill unit and said Monday afternoon that it will tow it Port Hobron on the southeast side of Kodiak Island.

Port Hobron is a well protected bay on the northern side of Sitkalidak Island, itself off of the southern end of Kodiak Island.  Sitkalidof is uninhabited, at least year-round.  The closest community to Port Hobron is the Alaska Native village of Old Harbor, which is on the Kodiak Island side of Sitkalidof Straits.  There is a decent airport at Old Harbor.

The marine weather forecast for tonight for waters south of Kodiak Island call for 30-foot seas and winds of 55 knots or more, which will be as bad as the Kulluk has experienced.

Update – 8:40 pm Alaska Time:

The Kulluk has again broken free.  This time it is four miles from the rocky Kodiak Island coast.  I’ve posted a new entry.  I suspect there will be updates through tonight.

This is looking very bad.

FDA Approves Frankenfish – What Could Possibly Go Wrong ….?

10:13 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

On December 21st, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the first genetically-engineered animal ever approaching approval for public consumption — a hybrid Chinook Salmon-Pouty — has been declared to have “no significant impact” on the environment.  As of the 21st, the FDA’s tentative approval of this GMO salmon, called “Frankenfish” by its many detractors, entered a 60-day public comment period.

In Alaska, home of a high percentage of the world’s remaining wild salmon, and a state where fish farming has been banned since 1989, the state’s three national legislators quickly responded to the FDA decision.  Most colorful, Republican Representative Don Young quipped:

“You keep those damn fish out of my waters. It will ruin what I think is one of the finest products in the world,” (Congressman Don) Young said in an interview, saying he fears that the spread of fish farms could eventually contaminate the wild salmon industry in Alaska. He wants to force delays in any FDA approval.

“If I can keep this up long enough, I can break that company,” he said, referring to AquaBounty, “and I admit that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski put out a press release and video:

Kenai River angler Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was railing against ”Frankenfish” again on Friday after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave a green flag to long-running efforts to produce bigger, faster-growing, genetically modified salmon. Murkowski, backed by Alaska fishing organizations, has repeatedly tried to stop such approval by tying the agency up in red tape.

She previously tried, but failed, to get the Senate to require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) be intimately involved in the process. She said again and again she thought a more thorough scientific review of the biotechnology was in order. But she sort of let slip on Friday that the demand for better science was really more of a smokescreen for efforts to simply kill the idea.

In a video released by her office outlining her renewed opposition, she stated flatly, “I just don’t believe that these fish should be approved.”

And Alaska’s junior Senator, Democrat Mark Begich denounced the FDA plan:

Read the rest of this entry →

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:

Read the rest of this entry →

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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Sen. Mark Begich’s Fatuous Reply to Our Open Letter to Him on Bradley Manning

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

I. Those of us here who have been attempting to get our elected officials to investigate the inhumane, illegal and unconstitutional pre-trial detention abuse of Army PFC Bradley Manning at the Marine Corps Base Quantico brig, should redouble our efforts, now that the New York Review of Books has decided to print a letter by Bruce Ackerman, of Yale Law School and Yochai Benkler, of Harvard Law School, with 295 co-signatories. The letter will be in their April 28th print edition, but is already getting wide notice on the web.

The letter has been around at the blog Balkanization, quietly gathering important signatures, for about four weeks, but it became much more widely discussed after The Guardian carried a short interview Sunday with one of the co-signatories, Laurence Tribe.  Tribe has been cited by Obama as a formative influence while the latter was his student at Harvard Law School.  There is a lot of material, dating back to mid-2007, when Tribe became one of Obama’s earliest and most ardent advocates, connecting the two together, with the praise going both ways.  Here’s Tribe being interviewed by the Harvard Crimson, on election day, 2008:

Tribe also emphasized the challenges that Obama would face should he win today’s election—“problems of such staggering complexity that they dwarf those confronted by any president since FDR in 1932,” which he said included “our economy in meltdown, our military stretched to the breaking point, the power of our example in the world at a nadir, our environment and our politics poisoned, our Constitution threatened, and our trust betrayed.”

Despite his avowed disappointment in the conduct of the American government in recent years—specifically regarding its use of torture—Tribe concluded his remarks with a sentimental evocation of his pride in becoming a naturalized American citizen, and his respect for the Constitution that “guarantees our freedom to challenge the practices that bring us shame—and to vote for a changed government.”

The Guardian interview shows a profoundly disappointed mentor:

He told the Guardian he signed the letter because Manning appeared to have been treated in a way that “is not only shameful but unconstitutional” as he awaits court martial in Quantico marine base in Virginia.

II. The Ackerman/Benkler letter, and its coverage by The Guardian couldn’t have come at a better time for those of us trying to get Alaska Sen. Mark Begich to use his position on the U.S. Senate Armed Forces Committee, to look into Manning’s abuse.  I’ve gotten co-signators to ask Begich to do this, and just over a month ago, his chief of staff, David Ramseur, wrote back to me, stating:

Phil:

We got the letter and Senator Begich will have it today, if he doesn’t already. We’ll get you a response shortly.

Thanks – David

I never got a letter, but, apparently, Sen. Begich sent one on March 10th to my physical address, which has never been able to receive U.S. mail.  Where it ended up, I have no idea.  I’ve never used my physical address in any correspondence with Begich’s U.S. Senate staff, and his Wasilla office (I left my card there when I delivered my open letter there in early March) and campaign staff had oodles of information on my post office box address, much of it from our checks they so gladly cashed in the 2008 campaign.

Julie Hasquet, Begich’s press secretary just sent me a pdf of the March 10th letter, which I’ve transcribed below:

March 10, 2011

Mr. Philip Munger

Dear Mr. Munger:

Thank you for contacting me concerning the conditions of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s confinement at the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia.  As you know, Private Manning was arrested in May 2010 on charges of transferring and communicating classified data and national defense information to an unauthorized source.

Because of the seriousness of these charges and the potential length of sentence, Private Manning is being held as a maximum security detainee with precautionary restrictions to prevent self-injury.  While I understand there has been no evidence presented that Private Manning is suicidal, under the circumstances, I believe there may be justifications for what are described by the Marines as non-punitive precautionary restrictions in accordance with brig rules.

Of course, pending a trial and conviction on the allegations made against him, Private Manning has the same presumption of being innocent until proven guilty all Americans in custody enjoy.  Even if he were to be convicted, I would expect his jailers to carry out his incarceration with the appropriate level of personal dignity and fair treatment that anyone in an American penal institution should be accorded.  As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will work to ensure his treatment is properly and regularly reviewed, and that any inappropriate treatment is not tolerated.

Again, thank you for contacting me regarding this matter.  Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Mark Begich

United States Senator

How fatuous is that, eh?  I’ve sent his chief of staff and press secretary links to the Ackerman/Benkler letter, and to this Youtube I made Saturday, of former Democratic Party Alaska U.S. senator Mike Gravel, appealing to current Democratic Party U.S. senator Mark Begich, to do his sworn duty, instead of fucking around like he seems to be doing:

How can we get through to these jerks, other than keep on pushing and pushing, before there’s nothing left of our Constitution to protect?