Shell’s most recent ‘mishap’ a few days ago was not the first setback the oil giant has suffered in its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. In fact, it’s the eighth in a growing list of reasons why Shell should not be trusted in the Arctic.
1. Shell has no idea how much an oil spill clean-up would cost
In March 2012, in response to questions from the UK’s Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, Peter Velez, Shell’s head of emergency response in the Arctic admitted that Shell had not assessed the costs of a clean-up operation in the Arctic, leaving shareholders exposed to potentially huge financial losses.
2. Shell’s barge, the Arctic Challenger, was not deemed safe enough by the US government
In July last year the US authorities announced that a key part of Shell’s oil spill response fleet hadn’t been allowed to sail to the Arctic because it did not meet US Coast Guard safety standards. The ship, Arctic Challenger, is a 36-year-old barge used to drag safety equipment through sea ice. But US authorities are not happy with what they’ve seen on-board and didn’t feel confident the Arctic Challenger could withstand the extremely harsh Arctic environment. Originally Shell agreed that the ship would be able to withstand a 100-year storm, but company engineers are now saying that it is “no longer appropriate” for the barge to meet such onerous standards.
3. US Coast Guard “not confident” with Shell’s dispersants in the event of an oil spill
In an interview with Bloomberg the commandant of the US Coast Guard expressed doubts about the impact of dispersants in Alaska in the event of an oil spill, saying – “I’m not confident what it will do in the colder water up in Alaska”. Shell has included dispersant use as a major part of its oil spill response plan for the Arctic.
4. Shell’s drill ship runs aground in a ‘stiff breeze’
On 15 July Shell’s drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, ran aground in the sheltered and relatively calm Dutch Harbour, Alaska, in a 35mph wind. Both the Noble Discoverer and theKulluk are ageing, rusty vessels and not the state of the art fleet that Shell has been boasting about. The Kulluk has been mothballed for the last 13 years whilst the Frontier Discoverer was built in 1966.
5. Shell’s drill ship catches fire
In November the engine of the drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, caught fire as it returned to Dutch Harbour, Alaska, and had to be put out by specialist fire crews.
6. Shell’s capping stack safety system ‘crushed like a beer can’ during testing
In December it was revealed that the oil spill containment system that Shell was supposed to have on-site in the Arctic was badly damaged in September testing. A Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement representative disclosed that the sub-sea capping stack was “crushed like a beer can”.
7. Shell’s Alaskan Vice-President admits: “There will be spills”
In an interview with the BBC, Pete Slaiby admits that an oil spill is what people were most concerned about. “If you ask me will there ever be spills, I imagine there will be spills,” he said.
8. Shell’s Arctic oil rig hits the rocks
On 31 December 2012, the oil rig, the Kulluk, ran aground off the coast of Alaska while being towed back to harbour in Seattle. It had hit heavy weather in the gulf of Alaska a few days earlier which caused the 400ft towing line to break and the rig to drift free. The tug managed to reconnect with the Kulluk but it “experienced multiple engine failures” 50 miles south of Kodiak Island, causing the rig to drift free once again in 35ft seas and winds of 40mph. The rig eventually ran aground on Monday after another attempt to tow it away. The Kulluk has 139,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board but as yet no spills have been observed. Teams on the ground are currently still trying to secure the rig.
Tell President Obama to suspend Shell’s drilling permits now, and let’s stop reckless companies like Shell from exploiting this fragile environment.