| ANCHORAGE, Alaska
ANCHORAGE, Alaska Feb 25 U.S. federal
prosecutors have been asked to take legal action over safety and
environmental violations discovered on one of two drillships
Royal Dutch Shell used last year in Arctic waters off
Alaska, officials said on Monday.
The violations were discovered in November by Coast Guard
inspectors on the Noble Discoverer, a drillship contracted from
Noble Corp to work on Shell leases in the remote Chukchi
Sea off northwestern Alaska.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow said the Justice
Department was now in charge of any potential sanctions against
Shell or Noble, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis
confirmed it was now in the department's hands.
"It's too early to know where that investigation and review
will lead," Feldis said.
In its annual report released on Monday, Noble said it was
cooperating with both agencies in their investigation.
"Based on information obtained to date, we believe it is
probable that we will have to pay an amount to resolve this
matter," Noble said. "However, we are not in a position to
estimate the potential liability that may result."
A Noble spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Details of the Discoverer's 16 specific violations cited by
the Coast Guard were released on Friday by U.S. Representative
Ed Markey, a critic of Shell's operations.
Among the cited violations are problems with the rig's main
propulsion system, frequent engine backfires, lapses in
fire-safety systems and lapses in waste-oil separation and
management, according to the document released by Markey.
The Discoverer was inspected in the Alaska port of Seward
and subject to a detention order, which has since been lifted,
requiring it to stay in that port.
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said Noble had already
addressed some of the deficiencies found by the Coast Guard, and
that there had been no risks presented by Shell's preliminary
drilling on its Burger prospect last year.
"At no time was the Noble Discoverer found or believed to be
a danger to people or the environment while drilling in the
Chukchi Sea in 2012," Smith said in an email. "Had that been the
case, we would have ceased all operations immediately."
The Discoverer remained in Seward on Monday, where it was
awaiting arrival of a vessel to transport it to a Korean
shipyard for repairs, Smith said. The plan was to have it "dry
towed," or loaded onto the transporting vessel, he added.
Meanwhile, the Kulluk, a Shell-owned drillship that started
a well in the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska, awaits its own
transport to Asia. It was damaged after it broke away from tow
lines during a transport across the Gulf of Alaska and grounded
off Sitkalidak Island in the Kodiak archipelago on Dec. 31.
The Kulluk remains anchored in a sheltered Kodiak Island
bay, Smith said, though the Coast Guard two weeks ago gave Shell
permission to tow it away. Smith said the ship would head to the
Aleutian Island port of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor when weather
allows, and from there it will be dry-towed to Asia for repairs.
The Justice Department investigation follows months of
missteps by Shell, which has spent close to $5 billion in its
high-stakes bid to explore for oil in remote Arctic waters.
Prior to the Kulluk grounding, the Discoverer had a
near-grounding in Unalaska, before it went to the Chukchi. The
rig then had a small explosion and fire after returning from the
Both rigs were cited by the Environmental Protection Agency
for air-pollution violations. Drilling last year was limited
because Shell could not get a mandatory oil-spill response
vessel to meet Coast Guard standards until late autumn; a key
piece of equipment on that ship was damaged in sea trials.