Numerous safety violations found aboard one of the Shell Corporation’s Arctic drilling rigs has raised some more red flags about oil drilling in the icy, remote northern seas where cleaning up an oil spill like the one that plagued the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 would be almost impossible.
Responding to a request from Democratic staff on the House Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Coast Guard inspected Shell’s Noble Discoverer drilling rig, a 514-foot-long log carrier that was built in 1966 and converted into a drilling rig 10 years later. What inspectors found did nothing to reassure regulators about Shell’s ability to drill safely in the ecologically sensitive Arctic.
According to Anchorage Daily News (ADN), the Coast Guard found that the Noble Discoverer could not maneuver fast enough on its own in all of the conditions Alaska’s Arctic waters commonly experience. Inspectors also uncovered “systematic failure and lack of main engine preventative maintenance,” which, ADN explains, “caused a propulsion loss and exhaust system explosion.”
“Among other issues listed were inoperable equipment used to measure the oil in water that is dumped overboard, improper line splices throughout the engine room, piston cooling water contaminated with sludge and an abnormal propeller shaft vibration,” ADN reported.
Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow told ADN that the case has been submitted to the U.S. Justice Department, but declined to say whether all the critical safety violations would justify criminal charges.
The investigation was triggered in November when the Noble Discoverer was pulling into the Port of Seward, Alaska, with a faulty propulsion system. Inspectors there “found several discrepancies dealing with the ship’s pollution prevention equipment as well as several crew safety issues,” Mr. Wadlow told ADN.
Concerns about the safety of Shell’s Arctic operations were also raised earlier in the winter when its other rig in the Alaskan Arctic, the Kulluk, broke free of towing lines and became grounded for several days off Kodiak Island.
Ocean scientists and environmentalists have warned of dire global consequences should a deep sea Arctic well experience a blowout like that which destroyed BP’s Macondo well and Deepwater Horizon rig. That well continued to gush oil into the Gulf waters unabated for 85 days, despite all of BP’s assurances to the federal government before the drilling operation began that it had the technology and resources to prevent a spill from occurring and stopping it if occurred nevertheless. And, as history proved, neither claim was true.
Shell’s record is hardly any better than BP’s poor history of environmental and worker safety. According to the Alaska Wilderness League, “… Shell doesn’t care about the local communities it devastates, the workers it imperils or the environments it destroys. From shocking human rights abuses in Nigeria to a long history of environmental violations in the United Kingdom and around the world, Shell’s track record suggests that it will stop at nothing to feed its outrageous profits.”