Just over a week ago, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management granted conditional approval for Shell to begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea in the Alaskan Arctic. Last Thursday, the Polar Pioneer, a semi-submersible drilling rig, owned by Transocean, but operated by Shell, arrived in Seattle. This weekend protesters, calling themselves “Shell-No kayak-tavists,” joined in the “Paddle in Seattle” in a fleet of hundreds of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards and other small vessels, swarmed near the massive drilling rig, to send a message to Shell opposing their continued attempts at Arctic drilling. One of the primary concerns about Arctic drilling is that the harsh conditions make oil spills likely and extremely difficult to clean up. The damage to the Arctic environment could be severe.
In 2012, Shell attempted to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea and failed badly. The attempt was a litany of broken equipment, poor planning, and inadequate engineering. The Shell drilling ship, Noble Discoverer was cited by the Coast Guard for significant failures with pollution control equipment and crew safety. The other Shell vessel, the drill rig Kulluk, broke her towline in bad weather and ran aground on Kodiak Island. Fortunately, it was removed without an oil spill.
The Interior Department’s review of Shell’s 2012 efforts concluded: “Shell entered the drilling season not fully prepared in terms of fabricating and testing certain critical systems and establishing the scope of its operational plans. The lack of adequate preparation put pressure on Shell’s overall operations and timelines at the end of the drilling season.” They go on to enumerate “...serious deficiencies in Shell’s management of contractors, as well as its oversight and execution of operations in the extreme and unpredictable conditions offshore of Alaska.”
Shell promises to do a better job this time. Nevertheless, the Polar Pioneer, is owned by Transocean. If that name sounds familiar it is because Transocean also owned the Deepwater Horizon, the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that blew up in April 2010, killing eleven and spilling, according to government estimates, 4.9 million barrels of oil. Yes, that is right, one of the rigs to be used in drilling in the Alaskan Arctic is being provided by the people who, along with BP and Halliburtan, brought us the worst offshore oil ship in history, the Deepwater Horizon spill.