Monday, January 7, 2013

Coast Guard Conducts Investigation Of Arctic Drilling Ship Contracted By Shell

The Noble Discoverer. Photo: Shell

The problems continue for Shell's Arctic offshore drilling operations.

After getting its Kulluk drilling rig stranded off the coast of Alaska on New Year's Eve - capping off a series of operational mishaps throughout 2012 - Shell's other Arctic drilling ship is being investigated by the Coast Guard for pollution violations.

According to CBS, criminal investigators boarded the Noble Discoverer last November to look into safety and pollution problems, eventually grounding the ship for violations. The Noble Discoverer is a 572-foot drilling ship owned by the Noble Corporation and contracted by Shell for Arctic offshore drilling exploration:

The revelation that another Noble ship working for Shell may have been operating with serious safety and pollution control problems bolstered allegations from environmental activists that the oil industry is unable to conduct safe oil drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean.

The Coast Guard conducted a routine marine safety inspection when Noble's Discoverer arrived at a Seward, Alaska port in late November. The inspection team found serious issues with the ship's safety management system and pollution control systems. The inspectors also listed more than a dozen "discrepancies" which, sources tell CBS News, led them to call in the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) to determine if there were violations of federal law.

After the Coast Guard's initial inspection of the Noble Discoverer, on Nov. 30, Capt. Paul Mehler, the Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection in Western Alaska issued a Port State Control Detention for the Noble Discoverer, effectively grounding the ship until safety violations were fixed. By Dec. 19, the ship was released from Port Detention but still remains in Seward for additional repairs.

This is not the first time Shell's Arctic drilling operations have been targeted for environmental infractions. Last May, an inspection of the Noble Discoverer revealed over a dozen problems, including issues with its electrical system, water management system, and its engine. The Kulluk, a drilling rig owned and operated by Shell, has also received three warnings for excess pollution and nearly 20 warnings for problems with maintenance systems, reports CBS.

Shell also experienced a massive failure with its oil spill response equipment. During testing last September, the company's oil spill containment dome was "crushed like a beer can" during testing. Just two years before, Shell promised that it had "designed and equipped the most robust oil spill response system in the Arctic known to the industry."

For the last week, Shell has been dealing with a public relations nightmare after losing control of its Kulluk drilling rig near a remote Alaskan island. The Coast Guard has been working to help Shell tow the vessel back out to sea. And this isn't the first grounding incident either. Last July, the Noble Discoverer slipped anchor and was beached for a short time in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Concerned about the range of problems Shell has faced in the region over the last year, environmental groups have called on the Obama Administration to revoke the company's drilling permits for Arctic waters.


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