Shell drill rigs in bad shape after single season in the Arctic Ocean

Feb 11, 2013

Today’s announcement by Royal Dutch Shell that it is moving both its troubled Arctic Ocean drill rigs from Alaska to Asia for major repairs raises serious questions about whether it – or any oil company –  can drill safely in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

These rigs, the non-motorized Kulluk which operated in the Beaufort Sea and the Noble Discoverer drillship which operated in the Chukchi Sea, and their associated equipment had multiple, serious problems operating in Alaska in 2012 including during marine transport.

Among its problems, the Kulluk grounded and the Noble Discoverer nearly grounded; the brand-new Shell-commissioned tug Aiviq had simultaneous failures in four engines while at sea requiring the U.S. Coast Guard to air-drop spare parts; Shell’s oil spill containment dome collapsed catastrophically; Shell’s drilling equipment did not meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s  air-quality requirements; the Noble Discoverer was forced to move quickly as a dangerous ice floe approached its drill site; and the U.S. Coast Guard currently is conducting a criminal investigation of the Noble Discoverer

According to licensed engineer and Arctic Program Director Lois Epstein of The Wilderness Society, “These serious transportation, logistics, and drilling failures – collectively  – provide strong evidence of Shell’s inability to effectively undertake oil drilling in the harsh environment of the Arctic Ocean, and raise questions about any company’s capacity to do so.” 

In recent years the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas have had massive summer ice melts due to climate change, resulting in increased interest by some companies in oil drilling in these remote and near-pristine areas that serve as important food resources for Alaska Natives.  The Arctic Ocean is an extremely challenging operating environment however, subject to frequent and persistent fog, high winds and waves, ice movements, and long periods of darkness and very cold temperatures. 

“To its credit, the Department of the Interior prevented Shell from drilling into oil-bearing zones last year because of Shell’s inability to meet federal requirements for oil spill response,” Epstein said.  “It’s time for Shell to re-evaluate whether it makes sense to continue pouring money into this complex and difficult drilling effort. 

“With imports of foreign oil declining, and exports of petroleum products rising, there is no pressing need to drill in the Arctic Ocean.  Additionally, given President Obama’s desire to address the causes of climate change, this would be an excellent time for Interior to consider asking ’if’ we should drill in the Arctic Ocean, rather than ’how‘ we should do it,” Epstein added.

Just scroll across our Shell mishap timeline to see why it’s time for the administration to re-evaluate Shell’s Arctic drilling.


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See also: 

Shell's oil rig "Kulluk" threatens Alaska's coastline near Kodiak Island

Key Shell device crushed like beer can


Tim Woody