Shell Games: The Return of the Clowns

Explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010 (U.S. Coast Guard) - Not at all what could happen in the Chukchi Sea,of course.

Explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010 (U.S. Coast Guard) – Not at all what could happen in the Chukchi Sea,of course.

Shell plans to return to the Chukchi Sea to drill this summer. It’s the return of the clowns. But there’s nothing funny about Shell’s past adventures in the Arctic. It’s a litany of repeated flirtations with disaster, violations of the law and breathtaking incompetence. Only the sheerest dumb luck kept Shell from an environmental disaster and loss of life. As it was, Shell’s piss-poor planning, wretched decision-making and scofflaw approach to regulation got them spanked to the tune of $12.2 million.

And now Shell is returning. The company has submitted its revised Exploration Plan for review by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and by the public. The more egregious errors have been removed; there no longer seem to be so many references to cleanup activities in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, But, overall, the revised Exploration Plan is a disappointment.

There was no post Sunday because WC was slogging his way through the wretched thing. Among other challenges, there are 3.5 pages given just to a table of abbreviations; the document is a near-sold mass of acronyms. Not all of the acronyms used are set out in the Table, either.

Many of the support vessels, especially those used in a spill, are proposed to be kept in Kotzebue Sound, a very long was from the drilling sites. And the total count of support vessels is less than half of the vessels trying and failing to contain the Deepwater fire in the photo at the top of this page. In a kind of Big Oil doublespeak, less is more, and further away.

Shell proposes to not refrigerate drilling mud. The idea is that by using cooled mud you reduce the danger of melting frozen soils. Shell’s rationale is that no permafrost was observed in any of the historic wells; that may be an indication there was no ice where those historic wells were drilled. It’s not any kind of evidence there’s not frost where Shell proposes to drill now.

Used drilling mud will not be captured; instead, apparently it will be discharged at the wellhead, along with whatever contaminants it may have picked up. The risk to benthic organisms is not discussed.

A common gas encountered drilling for oil and gas is hydrogen sulfide, H2S. H2S is very poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and explosive. it’s a fairly common in oil and especially gas wells. Shell has asked to be permitted to proceed as if H2S is absent, again based on undisclosed data from five historic wells. If approved, Shell would be excused from being prepared to deal with any H2S it would encounter. Given the lack of accurate data and the remoteness of the drilling rig, that seems like an incredibly stupid idea.

Far to many of changes give Shell a savings in expense at the cost of greater risk to the environment. Given Shell’s dreadful, appalling record in the Arctic, that seem to WC to be exactly the opposite of what experience would suggest.

It’s also unclear to WC that the revised Exploration Plan complies with the soon-to-bee-announced new drilling regulations. In particular, Shell’s effort to reduce the amount testing of the blow-out preventer, the device that failed so catastrophically in the Deepwater disaster, may be inconsistent with the new regulation.

Drilling the in Chukchi is a terrible idea. Letting a convicted criminal like Shell do it under the proposed revised Exploration Plan is absolutely unacceptable. You wouldn’t give a convicted bank robber the keys to a bank vault. Shell shouldn’t be in the Arctic.