Now That’s a Punchlist: The Noble Discoverer’s Problems

Through the determination of Rep. Ed Markey (D, MA), the many problems with the other Shell Oil Arctic drill rig, the Noble Discoverer, are now public. It’s quite a punchlist. Here’s some of the more alarming bits:

1. Objective evidence revealed systematic failure and lack of main engine preventive maintenance, which caused loss of main propulsion and exhaust system explosion. Company audit records were not available, crewmember was not familiar with Ship Safety Management System (SMS). Internal SMS audit required and external recommended. (SOLAS 74 Amend 2009 CE IX/3 & 5, ISM Code Part A/6.2)

2. Observed multiple fire screen doors throughout accommodation spaces that would not self-close. Stairways that penetrate more than a single deck should be surrounded by “A” class divisions & protected by self-closing doors at all levels. (IMO MODU Code1979 9.2.3)

3. Observed multiple fire screen doors throughout accommodation spaces that would not self-close. Stairways which penetrate only a single deck should be protected at least at one level by “A” or “B” Class divisions and self-closing doors so as to limit the rapid spread of fire from one deck to another. (IMO MODU Code 1979 9.2.3)

4. Main engine piston cooling water is contaminated with sludge and oil. Crew skims the oil off with a ladle & bucket during rounds. Main engine ops manual states failure of the telescopic tube packing will cause dirty piston cooling water. Provide Recognized Organization report indicating current procedure/design is adequate for the service intended and reduces danger to persons. (IMO MODU Code 1979 4.1.3)

. . . . .

6. Exhaust system back-fires on regular basis. Chief engineer suspects this is due to change to exhaust system in order to accommodate helicopter deck installation. As a result of back-fires (one of which resulted in a stack fire recently), main propulsion machinery and all auxiliary machinery essential to the propulsion and safety of the unit may be compromised. (IMO MODU Code 1979 7.1.3)

7. Current propulsion arrangement does not result in sufficient speed at sea to safely maneuver in all expected conditions without tow assistance. Recognized Organization to provide report attesting to satisfactory propulsion arrangement during transit mode of operation. Report shall include analysis of safe operation of unit in transit condition in the most severe environmental conditions expected over a 50-year period.

. . . . .

10. Discovered fuel oil settling tank converted by crew to a bilge water decanting tank. Modifications included installation of steam piping, steam coil in tank and piping connected to/from bilge water system. Modification was installed without sanction of the Administration. Provide documentation from Recognized Organization of approval and update International Oil Pollution Prevention (IOPP) certificates. (MARPOL 73/78 2011 CE Annex I/6.4.2)

11. Vessel experienced abnormal propeller shaft vibration on November 22, 2012, requiring main engine shutdown and dead ship tow to Port of Seward. Coast Guard inspection revealed vessel also experienced vibration on November 6, 2012, while en route the Port of Dutch Harbor. Design should not cause undue stress in the machinery operating ranges. (IMO MODU Code 1979 7.1.4)

. . . . .

13. Observed oil soaked structural fire protection insulation in way of exhaust where it transitions to vertical and extending to the lube oil tank. Minimum fire integrity of bulkheads should be as prescribed in table 3 (A-60). (IMO MODU Code 1979

. . . . .

16. Observed multiple dead end wires and improper wire splices throughout main engine room. Electrical installations should be such that the safety of personnel and unit from electrical hazards will be assured. (IMO MODU Code1979

Think about the categories of problems here: “systematic failure and lack of main engine preventive maintenance” causing loss of propulsion and an explosion. Fire doors that won’t self-close in emergencies. Engine piston cooling water contaminated by oil, which the crew skims off with a ladle and bucket. An exhaust system that “back-fires on regular basis” as a result of a design flaw in conversion. Unauthorized crew modifications to critical equipment. “Oil soaked structural fire protection insulation.”

This is criminal misconduct by Shell. We know pretty well how this pattern of conduct ends. In fact, there’s a trial just under way in New Orleans involving the same kind of conduct. Reportedly, the U.S. Department of Justice is already investigating the conditions aboard to Noble Discoverer.

Shell has repeatedly boasted of spending more than $4 billion in preparing for safe Arctic drilling. Not on the evidence.

Drilling the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas is a frightening idea. Shell drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas is a terrifying idea. It doesn’t look like it is going to resume in 2013.

Here’s a better idea. Stop it now. Permanently.


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