By Dan Carpenter and The Associated Press
5:09 PM AKST, January 3, 2013
The grounding of the Kulluk has prompted a national environmental group to question Shell Alaska’s preparedness for Arctic drilling operations. The news comes on the same day that a U.S. House coalition says it's calling on the Interior Department and the Coast Guard to jointly investigate the Kulluk and other incidents.
When the Kulluk went adrift in severe weather Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard rapidly initiated a response from nearby Air Station Kodiak. Shell says a fast response by the Coast Guard wouldn’t be an option for their remote drilling operations in the Beaufort Sea, but the company says it's prepared with its own cleanup assets.
Shell Alaska spokesperson Curtis Smith cites the 2010 rescue of the freighter Golden Seas by one of its ice-breaking tugs, the Tor Viking. In that case, the Golden Seas had lost power near the Aleutian Islands, and Shell’s tug was able to assist it to a safe port.
“We knew if something went wrong we couldn't call on the Coast Guard or any anybody else -- we would have to rely on ourselves and our own assets, and that's why we have purpose-built nearly everything for the Arctic, including our own oil spill response fleet,” Smith said Thursday.
Eleanor Huffines is a manager with the U.S. Arctic Program of the Pew Environment Group, part of the Pew Charitable Trusts. She says while the group is not opposed to responsible drilling off of Alaska’s coast, better operational standards are needed -- and that Shell’s Arctic assets are untested.
“The assets are on paper; we just want to see them demonstrated in Arctic conditions the way that they're supposed to operate,” Huffines said.
Smith wasn’t willing to speculate on what might be in store for Shell’s summer drilling plans. He said both the Kulluk and its sister drilling vessel the Noble Discoverer work in tandem, and both are critical to the company's drilling operations.
In Washington, D.C., the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, made up of 45 House Democrats, said in a statement that the grounding is the latest in a series of alarming blunders and amplifies the risks of Arctic drilling.