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U.S. Department of the Interior Releases Review of Shell Oil 2012 Arctic Drilling Operations – The Press Conference – Updated

1:11 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk

Kulluk on the beach

At 4:30 PM, Washington DC time Thursday, outgoing Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar and others, held a press conference to announce the release of their expedited 60-day review of Shell’s 2012 Alaska Arctic drilling operations, which were plagued by a series of fiascos.  Along with Salazar, the following DOI officials participated:

• David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior
• Tommy Beaudreau, Interior’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management and Director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
• James A. Watson, Director of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

Here’s what DOI put out in their media advisory:

Salazar will be joined by Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes, who chairs the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska; Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau, who led the assessment; and James A. Watson, Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

In January, Secretary Salazar directed the high-level review of Shell’s 2012 offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas – including the company’s preparations for last year’s drilling season and its maritime and emergency response operations – to identify challenges and lessons learned.

I attended telephonically.  The following is the best I could do between trying to quote, and getting fair paraphrasing:

Salazar opened with a statement describing Obama’s commitment to the development of offshore and Arctic regimes, both oil and natural gas.  ”Under the president’s leadership domestic oil production has grown every year …..  Oil imports have dropped to 45%, the lowest percentage since 1995.”

“Last summer we allowed Shell to proceed with limited activity in Alaska’s Arctic.  Because Shell wasn’t able to meet safety requirements, they were only aslloed to drill preliminary holes.  We and the USCG watched closely.

“We learned a lot, partially from Shell’s mishaps.  On January 8th, I directed an assessment and review of Shell’s 2012 activities.”

Salazar notes that Shell came to DOI, to announce their drilling suspension for 2013.  Salazar defers to Beaudreau’s 60-day report.

Introduces “Tommy”:

B describes their “37-page report.”  Participants were also USCG and Price Waterhouse.  B states “Shell also cooperated.  Meetings in Washington DC, Alaska and Washington state.”  Also met with Alaska Native groups, environmentalists and other governmental agencies.

Observations:

All phases of Arctic operations must be integrated and subject to strong operator management and government oversight.

Operators must submit detailed descriptions of operations before,. during and after.

Shell fell too short in terms of management and planning.  Serious violations of permits in terms of discharges and demands 3rd party involvement in management of oversight regime by Shell.

Seems to slam Shell for not using adequate local and professional knowledge.

Turns the mike over to Hayes:

The review confirmed the importance of interagency coordination between Federal agencies in offshore drilling. (I think he is glossing over the 2012 problems severely, as he praises how Fed agencies performed.)

The report confirms the appropriateness of “Arctic-specific standards” for equipment, operations and management.

He all but praises Shell for their performance while actually drilling the lead holes in the Chukchi and Beaufort.

Turns over to Admiral Watson, USCG:

Blah, blah, blah, Shell OK, blah….

Questions from press:

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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:

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