Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Coast Guard Pinpoints Violations on Shell Drill Rig

US Coast Guard officials have identified safety and environmental violations on a drilling rig used by Shell Oil Co. in Alaska’s Arctic during the past season. Details on those violations obtained by a top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee prompted the congressman, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, to demand a response by March 8 from Shell President Marvin Odum.

Markey made the demand to Odum in correspondence this week, and also released a list of violations found by the Coast Guard following inspection of the drill rig Noble Discoverer in November. The Noble Discoverer is scheduled to undergo more inspections and maintenance work in Asia.

Meanwhile another Shell drilling rig, the Kulluk, which ran aground during stormy weather in late December near Kodiak, while en route from Dutch Harbor to Seattle, was being towed back to Dutch Harbor by three tugs. From there plans are to dry tow the Kulluk to a shipyard in Asia for repairs and maintenance.

While there were no reports of fuel leaking from the Kulluk and contaminating fishing waters, the fact that the rig lost its tow and later grounded near Kodiak was of major concern to commercial fishing interests in that area.

“It is imperative that any drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean occur with the highest levels of safety and environmental protections in place, and I am not convinced that these levels can ever be met given the extreme weather conditions and Shell’s performance thus far,” Markey said in his letter to Shell.

Problems with the Noble Discoverer detected by the Coast guard included a propulsion arrangement that does not result in sufficient speed at sea to safely maneuver in all expected conditions with out tow assistance, multiple dead-end wires and improper wire splices throughout the main engine room, and abnormal propeller shaft vibration on Nov. 22, 2012, requiring main engine shutdown and dead ship tow to the Port of Seward.

The Coast Guard also said the rig’s main engine piston cooling water was contaminated with sludge and oil, with crew skimming the oil off with a ladle and bucket during rounds, and “oily water separator audible and visual alarms and oil content meter inoperable.”

Markey has also asked Shell to provide all internal correspondence as well as any correspondence between the oil company and Noble and personnel aboard the drill ship related to each infraction.

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