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Obama Administration Quietly Reopens Case That Could Criminalize Peer Review Process

8:52 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Dr. Charles Monnett, in the process of getting peer feedback on his observations that some Polar bears appeared to be dying in the Arctic Ocean, due to stress from long swims between dwindling ice packs, sent emails to scientific colleagues.  He was going through the peer review process, in order to publicize findings in a paper. That was in 2004, through 2006.  The paper was published in 2006.  Information from Monnett’s research found its way into Al Gore’s Academy Award-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

On July 18, 2011, Dr. Monnett was placed on administrative leave from his post at the BOEMRE.  On August 25, 2012, he was returned to work, but with considerably reduced responsibility.  Closely watched.

Today, his legal representatives, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, revealed that the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior quietly reopened their case against Monnett sometime between his reinstatement and December of 2012:

In late December, the IG first revealed that its nearly three-year fruitless pursuit of Dr. Charles Monnett, a senior scientist with the Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM), had been reopened although its final report was issued last September. The IG has not stated the reasons for the unusual action of reopening a closed case, except to say that it is awaiting BOEM’s response to unspecified new recommendations.

The new open status is slowing the ability of PEER to obtain documents relating to the controversial IG probe under the Freedom of Information Act. Under an appeal, however, PEER managed to obtain the basis for the IG seeking criminal referrals against Dr. Monnett after the IG initially refused to disclose the information. The four separate charges resemble the legal version of “everything but the kitchen sink” –

One rejected charge was false official statements in connection with the peer review process for the publication of a 2006 observational note by the journal Polar Ecology;

Another un-pursued charge was criminal conflict of interest in connection with the award of a joint research contract with the University of Alberta on polar bear transnational migrations; and

Twice, once at the beginning of the investigation and a second time at the end, the IG sought to have Dr. Monnett prosecuted for supposedly unauthorized emails he sent to other researchers in 2007-8. The second time, the IG maintained the emails amounted to theft of government property.

The 2007-2008 email distribution led to protests from Alaska Native and environmental organizations that Shell Oil was not being transparent in their statements and documents pertaining to proposed drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.  One of the scientists Monnett had sent some of the emails to was University of Alaska professor Rick Steiner, who was already in Shell’s crosshairs for attending a conference organized by Bristol Bay area organizations, critical of Shell’s plans to drill in the world’s richest salmon return habitat.  Shell has since withdrawn the Bristol Bay plan.  Steiner was later hounded from his U of A job.

PEER executive director, Jeff Ruch, is concerned that the “theft of government property” charge may pertain, in the reopened investigation, to not only the 2007-2008 emails, that helped shut down Shell operations for almost four years, but to the 2005-2006 emails, which sought peer feedback for a scholarly paper:

This new information underlines how irresponsible and misguided the Inspector General has been in its attempt to ‘get’ a target while trampling over obvious truths.  Especially dangerous is this clumsy attempt to criminalize the academic peer review process. [emphasis added]

Firedoglake‘s coverage of the witch hunt against Shell opponent Dr. Charles Monnett.

Firedoglake‘s coverage of the hounding of Shell opponent Prof. Rick Steiner

Shell Drill Rig Kulluk Heavily Damaged – To Be Put on Oceangoing Drydock and Moved to Asia

11:59 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk on the beach 01:01:13

I have now received word from two anonymous sources on Kodiak Island that it appears damage assessment of the Shell Oil drill rig Kulluk is far worse than has been thus far disclosed by the Unified Command:

Severe hull damage, making it unsafe to tow it to Puget Sound.

Severe power plant damage from saltwater contamination

Severe damage to wiring, ventilation and other internal control systems

Supposedly, a very large, oceangoing dry dock will be underway soon to Kodiak from Asia, and the rig will then be brought to Asia, most likely Korea, where it has been worked on before.

At present, the rig is being attended in Kiliuda Bay, an the southern shore of Kodiak Island by the tugs Pt. Oliktok, Warrrior, Lauren Foss, Ocean Wave and Corbin Foss.  Also on the scene is the anchor-handling vessel Aiviq, oil service vessel Nanuq, and the recently arrived oil service vessel, Sisuaq.  Several other smaller vessels are also present.  The Kulluk is now at anchor in the bay.

Kulluk attendees - 01:28:2013 @ 10-30 am

I called the 17th U.S. Coast Guard District headquarters this morning for possible confirmation.  I was told they have no public information, and referred to Shell Alaska’s press representative, Jennifer Taylor.  She did not answer my call, and there was no message service.  The Unified Command HQ has ceased to list a contact phone.  I contacted Shell’s U.S. media relations for the Kulluk incident, and was able to leave a message.  I also left a message with the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Oil Spill Prevention and Response.

The latest information published by the Unified Command on the vessel’s condition was posted back on January 18th, nine days ago.  In the UC release, it was stated in part:

•  Multiple entities are involved in the review of data, including: the U.S. Coast Guard, Shell, Smit Salvage and Det Norske Veritas. These reports involve precise calculations; it is important to ensure the accuracy of any reports in order to develop the next steps for the Kulluk. At this time there is no firm date for completion of the damage assessment report.

•  Once the damage report is completed, the Kulluk and any plans to move the vessel will be evaluated before it is moved to its next location.

•  Water did enter some spaces of the vessel through damaged hatches. However, the water has been captured and is being safely stored in a compartment.

•  The damage discovered on the Kulluk is consistent with what is expected from a vessel of this type being on hard ground. The fuel tanks are intact.

•  Points of entry for water into the Kulluk are being sealed (i.e., windows and hatches). Additionally, tow brackets are being added for preparation for the next move.

Alaska blogger, Steve Aufrecht was just one of many who has been frustrated by the extended news blackout at Unified Command.  He has written several posts on the incident and is increasingly frustrated by his inability to find out anything of substance:

But they aren’t just mum about damage extent.  They are mum about everything.  At least at the news briefings there was a chance to ask questions to real people.  But the last one, to my knowledge, was January 5.

Aufrecht is a retired Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the fact that he is this upset is significant.

Alaska’s leading maritime oil spill expert, retired University of Alaska Professor, Richard Steiner feels that if my Kodiak information on Shell’s Asia renovation and repair plans turns out to be accurate, Shell’s 2013 Alaska drilling season, perhaps even 2014′s, are non-starters.

Thursday, I discovered that Sen. Mark Begich’s proposed hearing (he’s chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard) on the Kulluk and Shell’s readiness to drill off our shores will be held sometime in March.  I asked his office the following questions:

1. When will the hearing or hearings take place?

2. Where will they be?

3. Will witnesses be sworn in?

4. Do you plan on subpoenaing any documents, such as the Aiviq log book, correspondence and phone records between Shell and the Aiviq crew prior to departure from Dutch Harbor, or other important records?

5. Will the entire subcommittee participate?

Friday,  in Washington DC, a small number of pro-environment organizations held a congressional briefing on Shell’s 2012 string of screwups and near-disasters:

Environmentalists from Alaska are hoping to persuade Congressional staffers Shell Oil should not continue its drilling operation in the Arctic this summer.

The groups held a Congressional briefing on Friday.

Congressional briefings are free of the formalities and TV cameras of Congressional hearings. And they lack the members of Congress themselves.

And many in this town think that’s a good thing, because it’s the staffers who attend the briefings. And it’s the staffers who have the policy expertise. The briefing was organized by the office of California Democrat Barbara Boxer – she chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

I suppose one aspect of Shell’s attempting to hide this as long as they can may be the impact such adverse news will have on the value of their stock share price.

I’ve seen a lot of poorly managed operations in Alaska over the years, but this clusterfuck (a term first used by my informant at the Arctic Challenger containment dome testing fiasco, several clusterfucks ago) clearly sets a new standard of haplessness, negligence, lies and coverups. Read the rest of this entry →

Kulluk Grounds – Spill Response “Ready to Go!”

9:37 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

KULLUK SITUATION - 12:31:2012 @ 8-50 PM AST

Changed the title of the post.  I’m currently listening to another hastily improvised press conference by the Unified Command from Anchorage.

The Shell Oil drilling rig went aground on the coast of Sitkalinak Island off of Kodiak Island at about 9:00 pm this evening.

Earlier part of the post:

This does not look good:

The Unified Command reports that the Kulluk is now adrift.  The Kulluk is estimated to be four miles from the nearest point of land.

The safety of personnel and the environment remain the top priority.

Difficult weather conditions are anticipated to continue throughout the day. Unified Command is considering all options.

This is an evolving situation. More information will be released as it becomes available.

I’ll keep you posted here at firedoglake too.

The weather situation is deteriorating rapidly.  The nearest the Kulluk had been reported to land was around 20 miles, before this very recent information.

Minor update:  I made a screenshot at 8:40 pm Alaska time of the positions of the vessels which have been attending the Kulluk, posted it on flickr, and put it at the top of this post.  The white “X” is Port Hobron on Sitkalidak Island, off the coast of Kodiak Island.  That is where they were hoping to find shelter sometime on January 1st.  The vessels in the screenshot are U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley, and tugs Aiviq, Nanuq and Alert.  The dotted lines are the track of the Aiviq today, as it maneuvered to get the rig back under tow.

Another minor update – Tuesday 9:55 am Alaska Time:  Here is the section of a maritime chart the Unified Command has posted, showing where the Kulluk first hit when it grounded yesterday.  The numbers are depths in fathoms (1 fathom = 6 feet).  The asterisks are rocks, which can be of greatly varying sizes.  The dot by “2048″ is where the rig was at time of impact.

Shell's reported position of Kulluk aground

My estimate – the white X – of the initial grounding position of the Kulluk – photographed on a much better day than yesterday or today.  Or tomorrow …..

Estimated grounding position of Kulluk

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.

Coast Guard Helicopter Rescues Crew From Imperiled Shell Arctic Drilling Rig – Updated

11:44 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Here is a short video released late Saturday by the U.S. Coast Guard, showing part of the helicopter rescue of crewmen from the drilling platform Kulluk.  The rig has been imperiled by multiple simultaneous engine failures aboard the oceangoing tug Aiviq, which was towing the rig from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Puget Sound, for modifications, repairs and winter berthing.

Shown in the video are the Kulluk – the round vessel with a tall central tower, the Nanuq – the long, slender vessel, and the Aiviq – the vessel with the helicopter platform over its bow.  The tug Guardsman, not shown in the video, is plotted on MarineTraffic.com as being close by.  All four vessels haven’t moved much since they grouped together yesterday morning. Rather than get close to the shore and seek shelter from the ongoing major winter storm, as they had planned yesterday, they have decided to put as many miles as possible between the rig and the rocks.

Here’s from an Alaska news report:

“It’s precautionary measure. They weren’t in any immediate danger,” Mosley said. “As this continued to unfold, they just wanted to mitigate any potential issues with that crew onboard.”

Coast Guard helicopters were also able to deliver a ton of engine parts and technicians to the Aiviq, and the ship’s crew had two of its four engines up and running by Saturday morning, Shell said.

What started as 20-foot seas and 40 mph wind built to 35-foot seas and gusts to more than 50 mph, the Coast Guard said.

The weather and the combined weight of the Kulluk and Aiviq were too much for the tugboat Guardsman, which was unable to stop the vessels from drifting. By 5:30 a.m. Saturday, its towline had also broken free, the Coast Guard said. Saturday morning, the Kulluk was about 27 miles from the Trinity Islands and drifting at a rate that would have had it hitting the islands in as little as 12 hours, Mosley told the Associated Press.

“We don’t want it to go aground,” he said. “When a vessel goes aground, it’s directly played upon by the waves hitting it and having it hit something solid.”

In what Shell spokesman Curtis Smith described as “cascading assets into the theater,” another Shell-contracted ship, the Nanuq, had been sent from Seward at the first sign of trouble. It arrived Saturday morning. The Aiviq soon had all four of its engines running, and with the Nanuq’s help, was towing the Kulluk farther out to sea to the southeast late Saturday, Smith said. The plan was to avoid more bad weather and the worst-case scenario that the vessels could again drift toward land, he said.

And here is the current marine forecast for Kodiak Island waters:

Storm Warning

COASTAL WATERS FORECAST FOR THE NORTHERN GULF OF ALASKA COAST UP TO 100 NM OUT INCLUDING KODIAK ISLAND AND COOK INLET. WIND FORECASTS REFLECT THE PREDOMINANT SPEED AND DIRECTION EXPECTED. SEA FORECASTS REPRESENT AN AVERAGE OF THE HIGHEST ONE-THIRD OF THE COMBINED WIND WAVE AND SWELL HEIGHT.
Synopsis…A 952 MB LOW 175 NM S OF KODIAK MOVES TO BRISTOL BAY MIDDAY SUNDAY AT 959 MB…THEN WEAKENS AS IT TRACKS ALONG THE SOUTHWEST COAST THROUGH MON MORNING. ANOTHER PACIFIC LOW TRACKS TO 480 NM S OF KODIAK AT 964 MB MON MORNING…THEN MOVES TO 120 NM SE OF CHIGNIK AT 962 MB LATE MON NIGHT.

Today: SE wind 40 kt increasing to S 50 kt in the afternoon. Seas 21 ft building to 28 ft in the afternoon. Rain.

Tonight: S wind 45 kt diminishing to 30 kt after midnight. Seas 22 ft subsiding to 15 ft after midnight. Rain and snow.

Mon: SE wind 25 kt becoming E 45 kt in the afternoon. Seas 15 ft. Rain and snow.

Mon Night: SE wind 50 kt. Seas 26 ft.

Tue: S wind 50 kt. Seas 30 ft.

As you can see, today is rougher than yesterday (I published yesterday’s forecast in an earlier post). The seas will come down on Monday, but another storm will hit Tuesday, perhaps worse then the one they are enduring.

It appears the tugs and barge are on a course of 200 degrees, with speeds averaging about 1.8 knots, which would put them about 90 miles further from shore when Tuesday’s storm hits.

So far, nobody has been reported to have been injured or lost.  Lets hope it remains that way.

So this is how Shell Oil rings out the year during which they hoped to start extracting oil from under the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

Update – Sunday 2:00 pm:  The so-called “Unified Command”  held a press conference in Anchorage at 1:00 pm Alaska time today.  I attended telephonically.  The Unified Command is the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Shell Alaska and Edison Chouest Offshore (owner of the drilling rig Kulluk).  They are maintaining a “Joint Information Center” during the ongoing emergency.  The Alaska DEC representative on the Joint Command, Steve Russell, described the Unified Command, saying how hard the State of AK worked, developing the “Unified command.”

I posted comments at this diary throughout the conference.  Here’s my summary:

What I got out of this press conference was:

1). Aiviq and Kulluk walked into this storm blithely.

2). At least two people have been injured.

3). USCG does not want to talk about why their cutter left the scene early Saturday.

4). Shell is backing off from earlier descriptions of the multiple simultaneous engine failures on the Aiviq being caused by fuel contamination. No mention in the presser of the USCG offloading “900 pounds” worth of new fuel injectors onto drifting Aiviq for those engines Saturday. This may be more important than is readily apparent.

5). There is nobody aboard the drill rig.

Should Tuesday’s storm part the lines again, like Friday’s did, it will be extremely dangerous to get anyone back aboard. Pumps are on automatic, but to re-hook for a tow, winches would have to be manned on the rig. No wonder they are putting as many miles as possible between them and the rocky coast of Kodiak Island eh?

Shell Oil’s Arctic Drilling Rig’s Tug in Gulf of Alaska Emergency – Shell Considering Evacuating Kulluk Crew

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Where are Shell's distreesed vessels?

On Thursday, Shell Oil Alaska announced its unpowered drilling rig Kulluk, being towed south from Dutch Harbor to Puget Sound, was in distress, due to complete engine failures on its towing vessel, the MV Aiviq:

The Coast Guard prepared Saturday to evacuate an 18-member crew of a Shell drill ship that was stalled in rough Gulf of Alaska waters, south of Kodiak Island.

The Coast Guard requested that the crew evacuate the Kulluk for safety reasons. The guard said it would have no more details until the evacuation was completed.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill ship was being towed Thursday from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands to Seattle when problems arose. By Friday, the ship was stalled in the Gulf with a towing vessel whose engines had failed. A relief tug was sent out on 20-foot waves and winds of 40 mph to rescue the ships.

The Kulluk has no propulsion system. The 360-foot Aiviq was towing the drill ship when the Aiviq reported multiple engine failures. The Aiviq crew was able to restart one engine, and with generators had enough power to maintain its position. Two vessels under contract to Shell left Seward when the trouble began — the tug Guardsman and The Nanuq, Shell’s principal oil spill response vessel.

This morning, Shell released the following:

The Shell-contracted response vessel, the Nanuq, arrived on scene at 6:30 a.m. and is assessing the situation to safely conduct a tow with the Kulluk.

Essential equipment parts were delivered to the Aiviq by two Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak-based MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews Saturday morning. Repairs are commencing aboard the Aiviq, and a second engine has been brought online.

Precautionary evacuation efforts are being evaluated to remove all non-essential personnel from the Kulluk.

“Our main priority remains the safety of all crews involved in this situation,” said Capt. Paul Mehler III, commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. “To help ensure safety of all involved, we have directed multiple Coast Guard assets to the area, including the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory, our Kodiak based HC-130s and Jayhawk helicopter aircrews.”

The Hickory is scheduled to arrive in the area Saturday afternoon.

The marine weather forecast for the waters in which this is happening is not promising:

Storm Warning

COASTAL WATERS FORECAST FOR THE NORTHERN GULF OF ALASKA COAST UP TO 100 NM OUT INCLUDING KODIAK ISLAND AND COOK INLET. WIND FORECASTS REFLECT THE PREDOMINANT SPEED AND DIRECTION EXPECTED. SEA FORECASTS REPRESENT AN AVERAGE OF THE HIGHEST ONE-THIRD OF THE COMBINED WIND WAVE AND SWELL HEIGHT.
Synopsis…A WEATHER FRONT OVER THE NORTH GULF COAST WILL DISSIPATE SAT MORNING. A PACIFIC LOW WILL STRENGTHEN TO 954 MB 320 NM SOUTH OF KODIAK CITY SAT EVENING AND WEAKEN TO 961 MB 70 NM NORTHEAST OF CHIGNIK SUN MORNING BEFORE MOVING INLAND ACROSS SOUTHWEST ALASKA.

Today: S wind 35 kt diminishing to E 15 kt by noon then increasing to NE 50 kt in the late afternoon. Seas 20 ft. Rain.

Tonight: E wind 50 kt diminishing to 40 kt after midnight. Seas 18 ft. Rain.

Sun: S wind 45 kt. Seas building to 26 ft. Rain.

Sun Night: S wind 35 kt. Seas 22 ft.

Mon: E wind 45 kt. Seas 24 ft.

Shell’s 2012 Arctic drilling season has been one setback clusterfuck after another:

The drilling rig Noble Discoverer went aground in Dutch Harbor in July.

The relief and response vessel, Arctic Challenger, failed tests of its spill capping device in early September.

Ice drove the exploratory drilling fleet out of place for two weeks in September.

And now this:

Guardsman takes Kulluk under tow

In 1982, I was on a tug – the Miriam de Felice – in almost the exact same place as this is happening, when we lost one of our two engines, and the stress on the remaining one caused it to start breaking down too.  We were in a storm a lot less harsh than this one, and barely made it to port for repairs.  I predict the Alviq will also be repaired, and the Noble Discoverer brought into Kodiak or Seward until the tug is fixed enough to continue on southward.

I’m Disillusioned by the People Who Are Disillusioned by the People Who Are Disillusioned With Obama

9:11 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

George Clooney in ad by Anti-Republican Crusaders

The above ad, by Anti-Republican Crusaders, which they are encouraging people to distribute openly and widely, featuring actor George Clooney, is aimed at progressives who feel betrayed by Obama’s policies.  As in other pushes to draw people who had once supported Obama back into the fold, it is – to borrow the term Obama has been using on the stump this past week – Sketchy.

Has anyone yet caught Clooney openly and ardently defending the NDAA and its onerous indefinite detention provisions, that Obama is now defending to the hilt?

Or the secret kill list?

The secret kill list article:

kill list

Or the position of his Justice Department that the banksters are unprosecutable?

Or Obama’s stepped up program against medical marijuana clinics and users of medical marijuana, many of whom are Veterans and extremely ill?

Or his full-speed-ahead support of Shell Oil’s Arctic offshore drilling?

Or his rubber stamping of Department of Energy policy regarding nuclear power in the post-Fukushima world?

Or his scuttling of the Copenhagen climate conference?

Or his intentional torture of Bradley Manning?

Or his unprecedented war on whistleblowers?

Of course they haven’t

Clooney and his ilk cannot defend those policies, so he and the others avoid them or plead ignorance, like Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz did above.

They are wearing blinders.

And –  yes, Romney is the worse of two evils.

Unfortunately, my spiritual beliefs preclude me from voting for war criminals, so nothing Clooney says will influence me.  Perhaps others.

Meanwhile, I’m content working hard to convince people NOT to vote for Mitt Romney.

And getting ready to vote for some progressive ballot initiatives (local Alaska ones).

And some Democrats.

Just not the war criminal one.

Shell Oil’s Arctic Challenger Containment Dome Fails in Perfect Weather – 2012 Drilling for Oil Called Off

10:53 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Arctic Challenger being towed close by a Foss Tug - 09/16/2012

Early Monday morning, Shell Oil announced that its plan of drilling all the way into oil, inside the crust of the bottom of the Arctic Ocean off the shores of Alaska, were crushed.  Their own technology, the vaunted containment dome, said to incorporate all the lessons learned from capping the Deepwater Horizon spill, was severely damaged in perfect late summer weather, while being tested on Puget Sound:

Shell is giving up for the year on drilling for oil in Arctic waters off Alaska after another setback to its troubled oil spill containment barge.

The company announced the decision Monday after testing of the Arctic Challenger, the oil spill containment barge the company has been unable to get ready and certified to support its Arctic Alaska exploration. Shell said that, while it will abandon its effort to drill into oil-bearing zones this year, it will drill “top holes” to get ready for next year.

“During a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged. It is clear that some days will be required to repair and fully assess dome readiness,” the company said in a written statement.

Environmental activists from Greenpeace, and being represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, have been pushing for the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to conduct more rigorous tests on the equipment Shell has vaunted as being the best in the world for winter conditions in the Arctic.  That the key spill containment feature failed in lake-like conditions near Bellingham Bay on Puget Sound is an indicator that the concerns of activists such as ex-Prof. Rick Steiner (hounded from his post at the University of Alaska by the Bush and Obama administrations, at the behest of Shell), and Subhankar Banerjee (who was a guest Sunday at firedoglake’s Book Salon) have legitimacy, and that Shell may be setting us up for as bad a record in the Arctic as they have on the Niger Delta.

I’ve been concerned about the package represented by the Arctic Challenger since I found out in late July that Shell was refitting the barge I had worked exactly thirty years ago into a role I knew it was not suited for:

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.

On August 8th, I attempted to take a close look at the work being done in Bellingham Bay on the Arctic Challenger.  I was thwarted and followed by Shell rent-a-cops out of town:

I’m on my way back from Bellingham.  I visited the Port of Bellingham Dock this morning, where the barge Arctic Challenger is being modified by contractors for Shell Oil, to be used as their oil spill containment vessel for offshore drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

I managed to get through two levels of security, being escorted the entire time.  At the third level, as I was explaining I hoped to get definitive information on the nature and extent of the stern modifications, bells and whistles started going off in the heads of the contractor’s people at hand.  I was sequestered away in the office of a fairly anal firewall type guy, until several security people and what appeared to be the project manager came in.

I was told the stern notch is being decked over and compartmentalized permanently.  It will never be pushed again as an icebreaker. Instead, he stated, an icebreaking tug, similar to the Swedish tug Tor Viking II, will be assigned to the Arctic Challenger from the time it leaves Puget Sound until its duties in the Arctic are over.  He stated that, summer or winter, when the vessel is deployed in the drilling areas, it will not be moored or anchored, but will be moving or drifting.

I thanked him for the best information anyone has yet given me, and requested a tour of the project.  He 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.

Bad luck barge? A project long nervous about potential outcomes?  Incapable of passing dumbed down tests in flat calm weather?  Is this what we will have next year, after Shell cobbles together something that can somehow get certified as adequate?

I hope not!

Look at the image at the top, of the barge, being towed into Bellingham Bay.  It is supposed to have a crew of scores of people, when deployed.  Would you like to be on that thing in an 80-knot blow anywhere, let alone the Arctic Ocean?

Meanwhile, Shell hopes to continue drilling into the crust, to a distance short of where the oil is supposed to be:

Shell is required to finish any drilling operations in advance of the arrival of sea ice that could pose a problem for containing spills. The company had hoped for an extension of its Sept. 24 deadline for drilling in the Chukchi Sea. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he wouldn’t consider the request until the spill containment barge was ready and certified.

Shell is now abandoning for this year the effort to drill into oil-bearing zones. But the company plans to drill as many “top holes” as possible this drilling season in hopes of making progress toward next year.

“The top portion of the wells drilled in the days and weeks ahead will be safely capped and temporarily abandoned this year, in accordance with regulatory requirements,” the company said in its written statement.

Shell has had problems with even such preliminary drilling.

The company last week had to halt the effort the day after it began when sea ice started moving toward the drill ship.

Shell said the drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, is expected to resume its position in the Chukchi Sea and start work again in the coming days. Shell said it also plans to start operations in the Beaufort Sea soon following the fall Inupiat whaling season.

image:  The Arctic Challenger, being towed to its berth in Bellingham Bay, by a Tug (possibly the Garth Foss), after the failure of its spill containment system in a test on Puget Sound. Photo by Todd Guiton, published by the Bellingham Herald