According to our whistleblower source, the entire rebuild and preparation was carried out at a reckless pace and the Noble Discoverer departed on its way to New Zealand without even being certified. As a consequence of the botched processes, the ancient ship repeatedly broke-down on the high seas during the move to New Zealand. Because almost everything went wrong, the well it had attempted to drill had to be abandoned before reaching its objectives so that the jinxed drilling ship could be moved to the Arctic with all speed. The magnitude of the fiasco has been such that Ken Salazar, the U.S. Secretary for the Interior, has recently written off Shell’s whole Arctic Campaign as a “screw-up.”
By John Donovan
The Noble Discoverer was built in 1966 as a bulk carrier called the Matsuhiro Maru.
In 1976 it was converted to a drill ship and renamed Frontier Discoverer, before changing to its current name – Noble Discoverer – in 2010.
It may be the oldest still operational (occasionally) drill ship in the world. If anyone knows of an even more ancient drilling ship which, like the Noble Discoverer, has thus far escaped the scrapyard, please let me know.
(We have now heard from a Shell Blog contributor that the Noble Roger Eason drill ship was built in 1963)
The shambolic Alaskan misadventures of Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet, the ill-fated Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer, have made the news many times and is now the stuff of legend.
Shell has however thus far kept a lid to some extent on the chequered history of the Noble Discoverer, including during its rebuild in Singapore, where it was supposedly being properly prepared for its Arctic mission.
According to our whistleblower source, the entire rebuild and preparation was carried out at a reckless pace and the Noble Discoverer departed on its way to New Zealand without even being certified. The idea was to use a well in New Zealand as a shake down for the more serious work in Alaska.
As a consequence of the botched processes, the ancient ship repeatedly broke-down on the high seas during the move to New Zealand.
It was scheduled to arrive in April 2011 in the South Taranaki Sea off New Zealand under contract to Shell Todd Oil Services to drill a well.
What was supposed to be a shakedown of the ship and its equipment turned into a fiasco.
Its mooring system and drilling equipment was damaged when eight anchor lines snapped during a storm on 26 April. It dropped tonnes of drilling equipment on the sea floor.
“The vessel was detained in New Zealand in May 2011 for 10 inspection deficiencies, including failure to show evidence of minimum safe staffing, inoperable navigation lights, compass errors, overdue lifeboat drills and various certifications that were expired.” (Extract from “More trouble for drillship after leaving Taranaki“)
According to our insider source, Shell was less than candid with the information it passed on to project partners.
Because almost everything went wrong, the well it had attempted to drill had to be abandoned before reaching its objectives so that the jinxed drilling ship could be moved to the Arctic with all speed.
This all happened before the Noble Discoverer arrived in Alaskan waters, where it was involved in a further series of increasingly serious incidents, including an explosion, fire, grounding etc, culminating in scrutiny by the U.S. Coast Guard. They discovered multiple violations of regulations (16). Apparently the drill ship could not go fast enough to safely maneuver on its own in all the expected conditions found in Alaska’s Arctic waters, had “systematic failure and lack of main engine preventative maintenance,” which caused a propulsion loss and exhaust system explosion and inoperable equipment. (Information from: Shell Arctic rig findings turned over to Justice Dept.)
The magnitude of the fiasco has been such that Ken Salazar, the U.S. Secretary for the Interior, has recently written off Shell’s whole Arctic Campaign as a “screw-up.” It appears that Shell management is in full denial that there is such a thing as equipment that has reached its end-of-life. The formal reaction always is that there is no such thing as old stuff since everything is properly maintained and fit for purpose. And safety is always our #1 priority. It sounds like a broken record.
Shell reacted by “pausing” its plans (it had no choice but to do so) and has now sacked “Lawrence of Alaska” – David Lawrence, its Executive VP responsible for exploration activity in the Americas.
His bosses, Marvin Odum and Peter Voser, are presumably hoping that making a scapegoat of David Lawrence will pacify the U.S. authorities and allow them to save their own fat cat necks. And no doubt Lawrence will be heavily compensated to buy his silence.
SMALL COLLECTION OF RELATED LINKS IF YOU GOOGLE ‘NOBLE DISCOVERER’
More trouble for drillship after leaving Taranaki“: 29 Dec 2012
Noble Discoverer docked for repairs: 3 May 2011
Noble Discoverer offline for several months: 11 May 2011
Boost to Taranaki economy from Noble Discoverer: 23 May 2011
COMMENT RECEIVED FROM “AN OLD SHELL HAND”
All reminiscent of the carry-on in the late 90s on the early days in the Kashagan field? Shell took a clapped out drilling barge from Nigeria (not really known for being #1 in maintenance), sent it to refit to Louisiana where the coonasses fixed it up as good rednecks do. Thereafter it went to Finland to winterise it (Kashagan gets very cold in winter) and repackage it for transport. The budget was around $35 million if I remember correctly and it was not until the famous Phil Watts (yes the preacher man) received a call from the boss of BP ‘what the f*ck are you guys doing in Kashagan?’ The bill had increased to some $130 million and Shell management simply did not know. They were too busy transforming and growing. That rig also caught fire around the same time.
It always is cheaper to go in with proper equipment when you try to drill in difficult areas. Fixing stuff like rednecks simply does not work in the oil industry. But Shell now has so many gung-ho americans that always agree with the current boss, they forget history.
Do you realise that the biggest oil spills the last few years have been in US waters with US personnel? One wonders if there is a link to the behavioral attitude of americans. They do not like to point out problems to the boss. The result always is the same.
And Obama was mobilising all his verbal powers to blame British Petroleum for the Macondo disaster. Emphasising the ‘British’. Everyone else would use BP. But he knew that Macondo was in US waters, screwed up by americans from BP, TransOcean and Halliburton.
but I am digressing….