Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced on Tuesday that the Interior Dept. would begin a high-level, expedited review of its 2012 offshore drilling program in the Arctic. The review commences at the same time that the U.S. Coast Guard begins its investigation into the cause of the recent grounding of Shell's Arctic drill rig Kulluk. Here are the details.
* Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau, serving as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, will lead the review of Shell's Arctic activities in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, the Interior Dept. reported, paying special attention in the challenges that the company encountered in connection with certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger.
* The review -- to be completed within 60 days -- will also study Shell's deployment of its containment dome and operational issues associated with its two drilling rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk.
* During the limited preparatory drilling operations last season, Shell constructed top-hole sections for one well each in the Chukchi and the Beaufort Sea, the department stated.
* The U.S. Coast Guard has ordered a formal marine casualty investigation into the circumstances and contributing factors involved in the grounding of the drill rig Kulluk on the southeast short of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska.
* According to Shell , the grounding happened during violent weather on Dec. 31 while the rig was under tow from Alaska to Seattle.
* Marvin Odum, president of Shell Company, stated that the incident occurred in spite of "significant planning and preparation" to prevent it. He stated that there were no significant injuries or environmental impact and that it's too early to gauge any impact on the company's ongoing exploration plans.
* The Kulluk was safely towed to Kodiak Island, where it will undergo a safety assessment before resuming its journey to its winter harbor for repairs and maintenance, the company stated.
* According to the Coast Guard, the investigation will evaluate factors associated with the Kulluk and its support vessels to determine whether there was any failure of material or evidence of misconduct, inattention, negligence or willful violation of the law.
* The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that about 22 percent of the world's undiscovered conventional oil and natural gas resources can be found in the Arctic. Salazar stated that the Obama administration is intent on reducing dependence on foreign oil and is committed to exploring potential energy resources in frontier areas such as the Arctic.
- Nature & Environment