Interior expedites review of Arctic drilling after rig incident


The Interior Department began an expedited review of Arctic offshore drilling just a day after grounded Shell Oil drill barge the Kulluk arrived under tow in a safe harbor location off of Kodiak Island, Alaska.

In a Jan. 8 announcement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the 60-day review will evaluate Shell's management of Arctic operations in 2012 in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, which were error-prone. Shell drilled only preparatory holes that didn't reach into hydrocarbon zones due to the unavailability of some oil spill response equipment.

"There is a troubling sense that I have that so many things went wrong," Salazar told reporters, says the Anchorage Daily News, but stressed that the Obama administration remains committed to Arctic drilling.

Environmental advocate groups have urged Interior to revoke offshore Arctic drilling permits. "Shell has shown again and again that it is not prepared to operate in Alaskan waters," said Oceana Deputy Vice President Susan Murray in a Jan. 3 letter (.pdf).

Shell has said the Kulluk incident is a separate one from drilling operations. "The situation with the Kulluk was a marine transit issue and one we take very seriously," the company said in a statement quoted by The Washington Post.

The 266-foot barge ran aground Dec. 31 on uninhabited Sitkalidak Island as it was being towed to Seattle for maintenance in stormy weather after spending the previous months as one of two first Shell Oil drilling platforms to be deployed to the Arctic. Eighteen crew members evacuated the barge with Coast Guard helicopters with no casualties.

The Coast Guard has also initiated a marine casualty investigation into the rig's grounding.

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