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Shell in Arctic oil risk alert

Failings identified on a Shell ship drilling in the Arctic have raised questions about the energy giant’s plans to extract oil in the region.

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The findings emerged after Shell’s other Arctic barge, the Kulluk, broke away from a tug and crashed into the uninhabited Sitkalidak Island on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Reuters

THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 24 FEBRUARY 2013

The US Coast Guard has passed its investigation of 16 violations on board the Noble Discoverer to the Department of Justice, after the ship spent last summer drilling off Alaska’s northern coast.

The violations included fire hazards and problems with the propulsion system, which meant the ship could not move as quickly as required in all expected weather conditions. Any potential fines would depend on how seriously officials view them.

The findings emerged after Shell’s other Arctic barge, the Kulluk, broke away from a tug and crashed into the uninhabited Sitkalidak Island on New Year’s Eve.

Ed Markey, as US Congressman, has written to Marvin Odum, Shell’s oil president, to ask what he will do. “The reports that Shell may have been drilling this summer using a drill ship with serious deficiencies in its safety and pollution control equipment raise additional and continued questions about whether Shell is able to drill safely offshore in the Arctic,” he wrote in the letter.

A spokesman for Shell said the ship had not presented an environmental risk.

“At no time was the Noble Discoverer found or believed to be a danger to people or the environment while drilling,” he said. “Had that been the case, we would have ceased all operations immediately.”

However, the findings will give fuel to environmentalists calling on the White House to suspend Arctic drilling permits, arguing that the region’s extreme weather makes drilling too likely to lead to oil or fuel spills.

Aside from the political pressures, Shell also faces logistical difficulties as both of its Arctic ships are taken to Korea for inspection and repairs. The spokesman said it was “too early to say” whether they will be ready for the start of the Arctic drilling season in May, when the ice floes allow work to resume.

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