The Blog Aquatic » noble discoverer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Court Upholds Shell’s Spill Response Plans Despite Past Failures and Serious Questions http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/06/court-upholds-shells-spill-response-plans-despite-past-failures-and-serious-questions/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/06/court-upholds-shells-spill-response-plans-despite-past-failures-and-serious-questions/#comments Tue, 06 Aug 2013 18:22:18 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6475 Workers in the ArcticYesterday in Anchorage, the U.S. District Court of Alaska upheld the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s decision to approve Shell Oil’s plans for preventing and cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. The court’s decision is a setback, but it doesn’t change the fact that Shell has failed to meet its obligation to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic at every turn.

The 2012 Arctic drilling season for Shell was remarkably calamitous. From the beginning, Shell experienced failures when their drillship the Noble Discoverer nearly ran aground in Unalaska Bay near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. By the end of the drilling season, the same drillship developed propulsion problems and needed to be towed into port in Seward for repairs.

Then in late December, the Kulluk, Shell’s other Arctic drilling unit, ran aground off of Sitkalidak Island after heavy seas snapped the towline between it and Shell’s tugboat. After a salvage operation plucked the Kulluk off the coast—thankfully with no major injuries or spills—it was eventually dry-towed to Asia for repairs in March.

All of these events happened during the same season that the U.S. Coast Guard held back Shell’s oil spill containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, in Bellingham, Wash., for failure to meet required safety standards. The Arctic Challenger was stuck in Bellingham until October 11, almost the end of the drilling season and long after Shell’s 2012 mistakes in Alaska began.

Similarly, Shell’s oil spill containment dome was not ready in time for the drilling season. When Shell tested the dome in September 2012, it failed spectacularly and was so badly damaged that Shell was forced to call off its plans to drill into oil-bearing layers.

Shell’s 2012 drilling season proved that even one of the world’s biggest companies was not prepared for operations in the challenging and remote waters of the Arctic Ocean. From the near-grounding of the Noble Discoverer to the troubles with oil spill response equipment to the actual grounding of the Kulluk, Shell’s actions evidence a lack of preparedness and an inability to work safely and responsibly in the Arctic.

The court may have decided that Shell’s plan complied with the law yesterday, but that does nothing to change the fact that any oil spill response in the Arctic, just like any attempts to drill there, will be incredibly difficult.

We all know that oil and water don’t mix, and that’s especially true in the Arctic. After seeing Shell’s track record, where failure to meet expectations has been the norm, there is no doubt that we should pause and reconsider whether and how oil companies can operate safely in the Arctic under such risky conditions.

 

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Don’t Let Shell Drill in the Arctic Based on Shortcuts and Excuses http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/21/dont-let-shell-drill-in-the-arctic-based-on-shortcuts-and-excuses/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/07/21/dont-let-shell-drill-in-the-arctic-based-on-shortcuts-and-excuses/#comments Sat, 21 Jul 2012 13:36:40 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=1846

Reckless Arctic drilling isn’t worth the risk. Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

In its quest to drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, oil giant Royal Dutch Shell made a lot of promises to government regulators about its ability to run a safe and clean drilling operation in the challenging Arctic environment. But as the drilling season approaches, Shell is already experiencing setbacks and backtracking on its commitments.

In the face of these broken promises, stand with us against Shell’s reckless plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

First, Shell is changing its story about its capacity to clean up spilled oil in the Arctic. Portions of Shell’s Arctic oil spill response plans are based the unrealistic assumption that Shell would be able to clean up 90 percent of the oil released in a worst case spill. Actual recovery rates—even in optimum conditions—rarely exceed 20 percent. When confronted with questions about its spill plan, Shell back-pedaled, claiming that it didn’t mean that it would actually be able to clean up 90 percent of the spilled oil, only that it would be able to “encounter” 90 percent of the spilled oil.

Second, Shell is having problems obtaining Coast Guard certification for one of its oil spill response vessels. Because of the harsh conditions of the Arctic, the Coast Guard requires Shell’s vessel to withstand the conditions and forces generated by a severe storm that might happen once every 100 years. Shell’s vessel failed to meet that stringent standard. In the face of this setback, Shell suggested a shortcut: it asked the Coast Guard to use a less rigorous certification standard.

Third, Shell recently admitted that it won’t be able to meet the air emissions standards established in Clean Air Act permits granted by the EPA. Instead of addressing the issue at an earlier stage, Shell waited and hoped for the best. When tests showed that emissions from Shell’s drillship and oil spill response vessel would exceed the air pollution limits set by the permits, Shell once again tried for an easy way out, requesting that EPA grant a waiver to allow the vessels to emit more pollutants.

And then there’s the incident in Dutch Harbor… This past Saturday, Shell’s 500 foot drillship—the Noble Discoverer—dragged anchor and nearly ran aground (or did in fact run aground, depending on who you ask) near Dutch Harbor in Alaska. Photos show the Discoverer very close to the shoreline. Fortunately, tugs were able to pull the drillship back to deeper waters. If Shell was not able to control its drillship in the relatively protected waters of Unalaska Bay, how will it fare in the more challenging environment of the Chukchi Sea?

Stand with us to tell the government it can’t accept Shell’s excuses and shortcuts, and it shouldn’t allow Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

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