Shell squeezes one last Arctic screwup into 2012

Jan 2, 2013 by

Grist

By Philip Bump

Shell ended 2012 the way it carried itself the entire year: with utter incompetence. From The New York Times:

One of Shell Oil’s two Arctic drilling rigs is beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, threatening environmental damage from a fuel spill and calling into question Shell’s plans to resume drilling in the treacherous waters north of Alaska in the summer.

The rig, the Kulluk, broke free from a tow ship in stormy seas and ran aground Monday night. The Coast Guard was leading an effort to keep its more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lubricants from spilling onto the rocky shoreline.

The Kulluk, pictured here trying to evolve into a land animal
Coast Guard
The Kulluk, pictured here trying to evolve into a land animal

Happily, the vessel isn’t leaking any of its fuel. And, happily, Shell’s complete inability to do things right over the last 12 months means that it wasn’t actively drilling anything anyway.

Here’s a list of things that have gone wrong so far in the company’s hyperactive push to suck oil from the Arctic ocean floor. (I have added a totally believable fake one; can you spot it?)

Which raises the question: What, exactly, does Shell have to do before the government pulls its permit to drill? At what point does the Department of the Interior say, You know what, Shell? You’re just too shitty at this.

Imagine, if you will, a gravedigger employed at a cemetery. Once hired, he loses his shovel. He spills a chemical that kills a bunch of grass. He creates air pollution (interpret this as you will). He doesn’t get his work done in time. Then he loses another shovel. How long do you think it would be before the cemetery suggested he seek employment elsewhere?

Here’s the difference between that hypothetical and the case of Shell: Imagine that the gravedigger gave massive financial contributions to the cemetery’s board and spent $10.8 million persuading them to let him keep his job. Think that might do the trick?

The BBC offers a bit of analysis on the grounding:

This is more a story about reputational risk than environmental risk. … Shell says its record in the Arctic is good. It says it will investigate the incident and learn from it.

The gravedigger will take “how not to lose your shovel” lessons.

There’s really only one major fuckup that Shell hasn’t yet committed: a ceaseless spill in one of the most remote parts of the world. If only there were some way the government could prevent that from happening.

Update: Gary Braasch shares images of the area around the Kulluk — a huge, empty, stunning expanse of ocean.

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

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