The rig, which has no propulsion system of its own, was being towed for maintenance before beginning its next season of drilling in the spring. That’s supposed to be the routine: a spring-summer drilling season that ends Oct. 31, with the rig then towed to milder climates for the winter. But there were delays because of weather and equipment problems. As a result, the towing didn’t begin until the difficult days of winter.
It’s the most recent in a long list of problems that Shell has encountered. In November, the U.S. Coast Guard found serious deficiencies involving pollution controls and crew safety in the Noble Discoverer, the drilling ship Shell used in the Chukchi Sea.
At least the Noble Discoverer was gone from the Chukchi by that time, because the drilling season there ends Sept. 24. At a minimum, taking into account the problems the Kulluk encountered in late October, regulators should consider a similar date for the Beaufort Sea.
But that would only begin to address the issues. The grounding of the Kulluk occurred within 50 miles of a major Coast Guard facility, allowing for a quick response. But what if the same problems had been encountered 800 miles away? The rigs probably should not head back to the Arctic seas this spring; federal regulators will be endangering a valuable and fragile environmental resource if they don’t reexamine what’s needed to drill safely under the most challenging conditions.Excerpts of newspaper commentary from around the country.