Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Alaska Wants to Participate in Interior’s Assessment of Offshore Drilling Program

An Interior Department assessment of the 2012 offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas is underway, in the wake of challenges encountered by Shell during the past season, and the state of Alaska wants a seat on the panel.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell made the request this past week in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Salazar said earlier this month that the review, which is expected to be completed with 60 days, would pay special attention to challenges Shell encountered in connection with certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger; the deployment of its containment dome, and operational issues associated with the drill rigs Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk. Salazar said the review is consistent with the Obama Administration’s commitment to safe and responsible exploration for energy resources in the Arctic and will help inform future permitting processes in the region. He said the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment demand a very high level of scrutiny.

An evaluation of the Kulluk at Kodiak Island is continuing. The Kulluk was en route from Dutch Harbor to Seattle in stormy weather when it grounded, and was later refloated, off a remote island near Kodiak Island.

The review of Shell’s Arctic activities will be led by Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director Tomy Beaudreau, who is serving as acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management. The review will look at Shell’s safety management systems, its oversight of contracted services, and its ability to meet the strict standards in place for Arctic development.

Parnell said hundreds of exploration and development wells have already been safely and responsibly drilled in state and federal waters off the coast of Alaska, and that these efforts have benefitted from half a century of experience in the Arctic.

The environmental organization Oceana has also weighed in on the Interior Department’s assessment, noting that significant problems during Shell’s drilling events in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas came to light in notices of violation published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Oceana spokesman Dustin Cranor notes that a number of these activities were given authorization to proceed by the Interior Department and he hopes the 60-day review will address agency oversight. A summary of Oceana’s documentation on the matter is at

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