The ongoing saga of Shell’s attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic

So Shell is attempting to get drilling rigs up to the Arctic again, and they’re planning to use Seattle as home port.

They tried to drill in 2012; the end of that story was their rig ended up grounded on its return from the Arctic, then sent overseas to be scrapped, and the owners of the drilling ship sent along on the trip plead guilty to 8 felony offenses for “environmental and maritime crimes.” The Wreck of the Kulluk is an excellent write-up of those events, and contains many details of all the problems Shell had well before the rough seas that grounded the vessel (including problems with strong seas months earlier, problems with the oil spill containment dome, etc. – it is a remarkable story).

This time around, there are activists in Seattle who plan to block the incoming rig if it tries to leave Seattle for the Arctic; they are learning to use kayaks for this effort. The Mayor of Seattle also recently pointed out that it looks like the right permit isn’t in place for Shell’s vessel to come in and hang out at the Port of Seattle, which means they need a new one.

But the most exciting recent news is this: Shell Plans to Drill in the Arctic This Summer and It’s Already Failed a Coast Guard Inspection

A drill ship at the heart of Shell’s hunt for Arctic oil flunked a Coast Guard inspection last month when a piece of anti-pollution gear that already cost its owner millions in fines failed again.

The Coast Guard held the Noble Discoverer in Honolulu for a day until engineers could repair the device that separates oil from the water in the ship’s bilges, said Lt. Scott Carr, a spokesman for the service. The April 23 inspection occurred less than five months after vessel owner Noble Drilling pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges and paid $12.2 million in fines, partly for dumping oily water overboard when the same machine didn’t work.

It’s the same ship, now 49 years old, that had all kinds of problems during the trip that wrecked the Kulluk, that ship is the same one Shell wants to use. Again. For another trip to the Arctic. And it’s again having problems (supposedly fixed now) with some of the same machinery it had problems with in 2012. I haven’t seen mention if any of the other malfunctioning equipment (that lead to several of the felonies) has been fixed since then.

Is it just me or does it seem like there isn’t much point in charging a company with felonies if it doesn’t really keep them from potentially doing the same damn thing all over again? Pay a fine, go back to work, no muss no fuss.

They might not make it to the Arctic in time this year: the permit problem might delay them. The activists might slow them down. And it wouldn’t take too much of a delay before they might have to call it off for a year (undoubtedly costing them money), since the window to get to the Arctic and return before the weather gets too dangerous is not that large. Weather in between Seattle and the drilling locations might be bad enough, even in the summer or fall, to delay things, too. If oil prices drop enough, it might stop being economically reasonable for them to attempt such things – and their lease on those areas of the sea is up in 2017 (unless they got an extension).

If they get into the Port of Seattle – and out again – it will be interesting to see how things progress this time. I certainly hope they don’t even get close to drilling again.


About Fjothr Lokakvan

More or less Northern Tradition polytheist.
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