Center for American Progress Action

RELEASE: Documenting Shell’s 2012 Arctic Drilling Debacle
Press Release

RELEASE: Documenting Shell’s 2012 Arctic Drilling Debacle

Press Contacts

  • Christina DiPasquale

Read the full timeline here.

Washington, D.C. — Today, after this week’s grounding of Shell’s enormous Kulluk drilling rig near Kodiak Island, ThinkProgress released “Documenting Shell’s 2012 Arctic Drilling Debacle,” a timeline of Shell’s major mishaps and warnings received over the last year. Taken together, it is overwhelming evidence that the oil and gas industry is not prepared for the enormous challenge and incalculable risk that accompanies any offshore drilling operation in the remote and volatile Arctic Ocean.

Despite investing more than $5 billion into an Arctic venture that includes top-notch crews and state-of-the-art equipment, Shell has stumbled every step of the way. Most recently, Shell’s second drilling rig, Kulluk, slipped its cables while being towed out of Alaska waters. The rig, along with its 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid, washed up on an uninhabited island along one of Alaska’s most pristine coastlines, and it remains there without a clear plan or timeline for removal.

Though an independent report conducted by the Government Accountability Office back in February concluded that Shell’s “dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region”—and multiple letters have been sent to the White House and the Department of the Interior from 60 members of Congress, nearly 400,000 American citizens, and 573 scientists urging the administration to halt Arctic offshore drilling—the plan has continued without identifying a permanent solution to the dearth of infrastructure to respond to spills in the area. (See the Center for American Progress’s map of oil spill response capacity in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico here.)

Financial institutions such as insurance giant Lloyd’s of London and German bank WestLB noted the high risk involved in responding to a spill in the region. As if to prove their point, Shell briefly lost control of its Noble Discoverer rig when the vessel slipped its mooring and came close to running aground in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in July. This same month Shell’s oil spill response barge, a key piece of oil spill response equipment, repeatedly failed to obtain Coast Guard certification. In conjunction with late-lingering sea ice which blocked access to the drill sites, these delays prevented Shell from beginning drilling work on schedule.

Following Shell’s troubled path, Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil announced it will suspend its own plans to drill offshore in the Alaskan Arctic Ocean, a British parliamentary committee called for a halt to drilling in the Arctic Ocean until necessary steps are taken to protect the region from the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill, and France-based Total SA—the fourth-largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world—became the first major oil producer to admit that offshore drilling in Arctic waters is a risky idea and warn other companies against drilling in the region.

Each of these major mishaps, warnings, and troubling revelations would individually be reason for pause. Collectively, they prove to be a clear indicator that we need to re-evaluate our preparedness to safely operate in the unforgiving and unpredictable Arctic region.

Related resources:

Read the full timeline here.

To speak with experts on this topic, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or cdipasquale@americanprogressaction.org.

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