Ocean Currents » coast guard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 04 Sep 2015 17:29:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Shell’s Kulluk Disaster Featured in New York Times Sunday Magazine http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/02/shells-kulluk-disaster-featured-in-new-york-times-sunday-magazine/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/02/shells-kulluk-disaster-featured-in-new-york-times-sunday-magazine/#comments Fri, 02 Jan 2015 15:19:09 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9668

Photo: Coast Guard

In late December of 2012, one of Shell Oil’s Arctic drillships, the Kulluk, snapped its tow-line during a powerful storm in the North Pacific. After multiple failed attempts to re-establish a tow, the Coast Guard evacuated the crew of the Kulluk, rescue tugs abandoned their efforts to pull the ship to safety, and the Kulluk grounded on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, Alaska.  The January 4 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine tells the dramatic story of the events that led up to the disaster in an article entitled, The Wreck of the Kulluk.

The Sunday Magazine story tells a gripping tale, especially if you like accounts of drama on the sea. Aside from being a good read, the story makes clear that Shell and its contractors easily could have avoided the disaster. Before leaving port, the tug’s tow master predicted that Kulluk’s planned route “guarantees an ass kicking.” Warnings signs don’t get much clearer than that. But the tow master’s caution, like many other warning signs—was ignored.

I wrote about Shell’s multiple mistakes and its failure to recognize risk in this blog post, which was published soon after the Coast Guard released a report on its investigation into the Kulluk incident. Another  Coast Guard investigation led to the recent announcement that Shell contractor Noble Drilling would plead guilty to eight felony charges and pay more than $12 million in fines relating to violations onboard Shell’s other Arctic drillship, the Noble Discoverer.

Unfortunately, Shell wants to return to the Arctic this coming summer. The oil giant has submitted plans to bring the Noble Discoverer and another drillship to the Chukchi Sea this year. That could spell double trouble for the Arctic. Tell the Secretary of the Interior to say “no” to Shell’s risky drilling plans. Please sign our petition today.

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Everything You Need to Know About How a Government Shutdown Will Affect the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/30/everything-you-need-to-know-about-how-a-government-shutdown-will-affect-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/30/everything-you-need-to-know-about-how-a-government-shutdown-will-affect-the-ocean/#comments Mon, 30 Sep 2013 18:44:39 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6738 U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles Mitchell, a rescue swimmer from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., is hoisted back into an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter after retrieving Oscar, a rescue training dummy, 50 miles east of Boston, Mass., on March 25, 2008.

Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell, U.S. Coast Guard

If Congress can’t reach consensus on a government funding bill by the end of today, the federal government will shut down. Today is the last day of the federal government’s fiscal year, and Congress hasn’t passed any bills yet to … well … pay the bills and keep the government functioning. So unless Congress gets its act together really fast (and it doesn’t look like that’s very likely), we’ll have a government shutdown starting tomorrow.

Regardless of your views on who’s at fault or your opinion on the fight over Obamacare, the result of a shutdown is clear: Many of the federal agencies that manage our ocean environment will close up shop and send their employees home.

So here’s a look at which of the government’s ocean activities would stay open, which would be shuttered and what a government shutdown looks like for the ocean:

How do we know which parts of the government will stay open?

As you might expect, shutting down something as huge and far-reaching as the federal government is no small task. And because a government shutdown appeared to be looming, the Office of Management and Budget (which is part of the Executive Office of the President) asked all federal agencies to develop contingency plans for a shutdown. These plans detail what stays open, what gets closed, who goes home and what jobs get left undone.

Will a shutdown affect endangered species or marine mammals?

Luckily, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting endangered species, critical habitats, and protected ocean and coastal areas such as national marine sanctuaries will remain on the job. Many Fish & Wildlife Service law enforcement officers who protect coastal species like sea turtles will also remain at their posts throughout a shutdown.

However, most longer-term management activities for endangered species and marine mammals—such as Endangered Species Act consultations, Marine Mammal Protection Act stock assessments, and the development and implementation of Endangered Species Act Recovery Plans—will all come to a halt during a shutdown.

Will there still be forecasts for weather and ocean conditions?

NOAA’s National Weather Service will continue functioning. Personnel will still be on hand to monitor for tsunamis and issue warnings if such an event occurs. And NOAA’s National Ocean Service will continue essential services important for shipping and human health such as real-time water level data, critical nautical chart updates and harmful algal bloom forecasting.

What about the Coast Guard and law enforcement on the ocean?

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard will only maintain emergency response, maritime safety and search-and-rescue activities that are “necessary for safety of life and protection of property.”

Fisheries enforcement patrols will be cut back drastically. Maintenance to navigation buoys will be curtailed. Services to shippers and recreational boaters like issuing or renewing licensing or seaman documentation will be stopped.

It’s unclear to what extent oil spill preparedness and response will be impacted. Law enforcement activities from NOAA and Fish and Wildlife Service will continue.

What will happen with federally managed fisheries?

For fisheries in federal waters, a government shutdown will likely cause a suite of delays and inconveniences. Coast Guard services will be delayed or shut down, and law enforcement patrols reduced. NOAA law enforcement will continue, as will essential management services from the National Marine Fisheries Service such as quota monitoring, fisheries observers and regulatory actions to prevent overfishing.

But a whole bundle of ongoing fisheries management activities like stock assessments, National Environmental Policy Act reviews and the preparation of Fishery Management Plans will likely come to a halt, ultimately delaying management decisions.

How will it impact offshore oil and gas drilling?

For offshore energy, it’s a mixed bag. Offshore renewable energy activities would be halted. Work on many offshore oil and gas drilling processes, like work on the National Environmental Policy Act will come to a stop, which would cause delays for companies seeking permits to drill. But emergency response personnel would remain on-hand, and some permitting actions necessary to facilitate safe ongoing drilling operations would continue.

Will it halt NOAA’s ocean research?

For the most part, the federal government’s ocean research activities will be shut down. NOAA’s research vessels will all be ordered to return to port, scientific staff will be sent home, and research efforts will be wound down. Some NOAA employees who maintain long-term experiments, manage the constant stream of long-term climate data from our satellites or who are funded through mechanisms other than the federal appropriations process may be allowed to stay on the job. But there’s no doubt that a government shutdown would be a blow to ongoing federal ocean research efforts.

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Say No to Dumping Trash in Arctic Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/07/say-no-to-dumping-trash-in-arctic-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/07/say-no-to-dumping-trash-in-arctic-waters/#comments Tue, 07 May 2013 15:00:26 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5690

Everyone knows dumping trash into the ocean is a bad idea, right? Well, apparently not everyone. At a recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. delegation—led by the U.S. Coast Guard—opposed a proposal to ban the dumping of garbage in the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic is one of Earth’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of the world’s largest seabird populations and iconic wildlife like polar bears, belugas and the extremely long-lived bowhead whale. The unspoiled nature of the Arctic doesn’t mean it’s without threats.

In fact, today the Arctic faces unparalleled challenges from oil and gas development and other industrial activity, increasing water temperatures and climate change impacts—all jeopardizing the integrity of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Adding ocean trash to this list of pressures is simply not acceptable.

Ocean Conservancy is working to help employ science-based solutions that will ensure Arctic waters remain healthy and clean. Allowing vessels to deliberately dump waste into the Arctic just doesn’t fit into the equation for a resilient Arctic ecosystem.

Canada and Russia banned ships from dumping their garbage in Arctic waters with no adverse consequences for shipping.  However, this ban applies only to these countries’ territorial waters. The Arctic Ocean is a single ecosystem, and we know all too well that trash does not abide by country boundaries. This means garbage dumped into territorial waters of the United States can endanger wildlife inside and outside of our borders, potentially compromising the Arctic’s entire marine ecosystem.

Arctic summer sea ice is shrinking to ever-lower levels, and more and more vessels are venturing into the open water. As vessel traffic in the region grows, so too does the threat posed by discharging trash and other waste into Arctic waters. Therefore, it’s critical that we put in place strong environmental protection measures for the Arctic now, before the pressures of shipping in the region escalate even more.

We are working hard to keep plastics and trash out of our global ocean, yet the Coast Guard seems OK with allowing ships to litter our Arctic waters. I don’t get it. There’s no good reason for the United States to oppose a garbage ban in the Arctic.

The decision at hand is a simple one: ships simply should not be allowed to dump their garbage in the remote and beautiful waters of the Arctic Ocean. Join Ocean Conservancy in urging the Coast Guard to reverse course and support a ban on the discharge of garbage in the Arctic.

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A Rocky End to 2012 for Shell’s Arctic Drillships http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/03/a-rocky-end-to-2012-for-shells-arctic-drillships/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/03/a-rocky-end-to-2012-for-shells-arctic-drillships/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2013 15:42:39 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4085
Last year ended badly for the two drill rigs used by Shell Oil for its Arctic operations. A Coast Guard inspection in late November revealed significant problems with safety and pollution prevention equipment aboard the drillship Noble Discoverer. More recently—and more dramatically—a powerful storm in the North Pacific drove Shell’s drilling unit Kulluk aground off the coast of Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, Alaska. Fortunately, the Coast Guard evacuated the Kulluk’s crew before the drilling unit grounded and so far, there are have been no serious injuries. The operation to salvage the Kulluk is ongoing, and we hope that all responders and salvors stay safe.

The Kulluk’s problems began on Thursday, December 27 when heavy seas snapped the towline between the Kulluk and Shell’s tug, the Aiviq. Crews managed to reestablish the towline connecting the vessels, but the Aiviq then experienced total engine failure, leaving both tug and tow adrift in rough seas and high winds. Shell sent additional vessels to the scene to assist, and the Coast Guard responded with two cutters and MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters. At Shell’s request, the Coast Guard evacuated the 18-person crew of the Kulluk on December 29. Coast Guard helicopters delivered engine parts and technicians to the Aiviq that enabled repair of the tug’s engines but—despite repeated efforts over the course of several days—neither the Aiviq nor any of the other response vessels were able to tow the Kulluk to safety.

At approximately 9pm local time on December 31, the Kulluk ran aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island. Photographs and video from the scene show waves pounding the grounded drilling unit. According to Shell, the Kulluk is carrying up to 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel, together with approximately 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid. As of this writing, the hull is stable and upright, and so far there are no signs of contaminants in the water. Nevertheless, responders are staging spill response equipment to the area in the event of a spill. On January 2, an assessment team boarded the Kulluk to evaluate options for freeing the rig. But until the rig is off the rocks, we can only hope that the vessel remains intact and more serious environmental damage is avoided.

The dramatic grounding and salvage of the Kulluk overshadowed the earlier news that Shell’s other Arctic drillship—the Noble Discoverer—had significant problems of its own. The LA Times and Alaska Dispatch recently reported that the Discoverer had to be towed into port in Seward, Alaska after the drillship developed propulsion problems in November. While in port in Seward, a Coast Guard inspection revealed serious issues with safety and pollution prevention equipment. The problems were so severe that the Discoverer failed to meet federal and international requirements. The U.S. Coast Guard cited the Discoverer for the deficiencies and ordered the ship to remain in port until it was brought back into compliance with regulations. The ship’s owner, the Noble Corporation, acknowledged the problems in a press release and admitted that the Discoverer may have discharged pollutants without proper authorization. Noble claims that it corrected the most serious problems and the Coast Guard has lifted its detention order. As of this writing the Discoverer is still in Seward. According to news reports, a tug will tow the Discoverer to Seattle where the drillship will undergo additional repairs.

The grounding of the Kulluk and safety and pollution prevention problems on the Noble Discoverer come on the heels of a long string of other mishaps from last summer’s drilling operations—including the near-grounding of the Discoverer near Dutch Harbor last July and a failed test of Shell’s oil spill containment system that left Shell’s equipment “crushed like a beer can.” Shell’s track record of failure in 2012 raises serious questions about whether the company is capable of carrying out safe operations in Alaska’s challenging environments.

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