by Eli Rabett, Rabett Run, January 7, 2013
Recently, a Shell drilling vessel, the Kulluk, broke free from its towing lines in a storm and ran aground. Personnel on the platform had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and there is now a major effort to refloat the Kulluk and ensure there is no secondary damage from oil leaks and such. Neven (who else) has a good summary of the situation and can be relied on to update as sensible.
Michael Tobis last month asked Eli to explain why the Department of the Interior was going after Charles Monnett. The Kulluk is the short answer, more specifically BOEM wanting to approve Shell's drilling plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Email leaks from Monnett were used to tie Shell, BOEM and BSEE up in court, delaying the issuance of permits four years from 2008 to late 2012 and indeed, this was the only ground at the conclusion of their farcical investigation that the DOI Inspector General cited to reprimand Monnett.
A good summary with links to original documents of the final court decision allowing the drilling can be found on the Foreign Policy Blog.
On May 25, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) August 2011 decision to permit Shell to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska’s north shore. The Native Village of Point Hope and the Inupiat Community of the North Slope had challenged the decision in court, as did non-profit organizations such as Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club. This is the third time that the government has had to defend its approval of Shell’s offshore drilling plans in court. The indigenous groups and NGOs sued the Bureau for approving Shell’s exploration plan, claiming that BOEM “failed to discharge its obligations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) (PDF available here) in approving Shell Offshore Inc.’s plan for exploratory oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea.”Drilling in the Chukchi Sea was approved August 30, and on September 20, 2012, approval was given to move the Kulluk into the Beaufort Sea to begin preliminary work
WASHINGTON — As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director James A. Watson today announced that Shell will be allowed to move forward with certain limited preparatory activities in the Beaufort Sea offshore Alaska. Today’s action builds upon BSEE’s authorization on August 30 for Shell to conduct similar preparatory activities in the Chukchi Sea, in preparation for potential development activities in the future. . . .
BSEE inspectors are maintaining their full-time presence on the Noble Discoverer drill ship in the Chukchi, and will also be onboard the Kulluk drilling vessel full-time during its operations in the Beaufort Sea, to provide continuous oversight and monitoring of all approved activities.
Shell was anxious to get started given that it has already poured $4.5 billion into the project, money that was not earning a return as long as the issue remained in court, but its rush has led to one equipment malfunction after another. The Foreign Policy Blog has a statement from Shell that is indicative of the pressure on them to start seeing a return from their investment
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith stated, “There are other appeals still pending, such as those of our air quality permits, but the favorable ruling on the exploration plan is a substantial boost for us.” The EPA granted Shell ten air quality permits in September 2011 to permit the Noble Discoverer drillship, the Kulluk drilling unit, and a support fleet of icebreakers, oil spill response vessels, and supply ships to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas for up to 120 days each year. As Shell is hopeful for its prospects this summer, both the Noble Discoverer and Kulluk are being outfitted and “winterized” in a Seattle shipyard in preparation to sail to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in mid-June.In September, they damaged a containment dome designed as one of the layers to deal with possible well blow outs. That meant that the only work that could be started was to drill top holes, sea floor infrastructure needed before drilling deep for oil and gas and that is why the Kulluk was being moved
Which now allows Eli to show MT the little men behind the curtain. The idiotic act of Eric May, DOI IG special inspector, was a futile effort to find something else to hang Monnett with. Dr. Monnett had a strong whistle blower defense, especially because the 9th Circuit had ruled in 2008 that the emails showed BOEM had messed up their assessment of the safety of Shell's drilling plans.
Rick Steiner, the U Alaska Professor that Monnett leaked to, got tossed out of the Sea Grant program for being a general pain in the butt, and his part in this program may have contributed
PEER knew damn well what was going on and hid the cheese. Now some, not Eli of course, might look at this and advise Scott Mandia to take care when dealing with PEER. Those folk play inside baseball.
Jeffrey Gleason was collateral damage. Eli thinks that he left BOEM and Alaska as the only way of getting out from between his bosses and Monnett.
The remaining question is how high up in DOI the effort to get rid of Monnett and hide the reason why went, especially because of the intersection with Steiner, the Sea Grant Program and NOAA. This is key from an environmental point of view, because it speaks to the Obama administration's attitude toward the Arctic environment.