Shell faces new probe over Alaska drill program

Thu Mar 28, 2013 1:01am EDT
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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - A fourth government probe is under way into Royal Dutch Shell's mishap-prone 2012 Alaska drilling season, this time for possible violations of international marine environmental rules, a U.S. Coast Guard official said on Wednesday.

The Coast Guard has asked federal prosecutors to consider taking action on possible violations of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) committed in the operations of Shell's Kulluk drillship, said Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, head of the Coast Guard in Alaska.

Shell, which had planned to drill up to five wells offshore Alaska in 2012 and a similar number this year, has previously said it will pause its Alaska operations to regroup due to complications faced in the harsh northern environment, but it expects to resume drilling next year.

Ostebo said he had commissioned one investigation already launched into the December 31 grounding of the Kulluk and that the Coast Guard has forwarded findings of safety and environmental violations on the Noble Discoverer, Shell's other Alaska drillship, to U.S. prosecutors for possible enforcement action.

"Last week, I also referred a separate Kulluk investigation into potential MARPOL violations from 2012 to the Department of Justice for their review and potential follow-on action," Ostebo said at a field hearing convened by Senator Mark Begich.

Ostebo declined to comment further, with the review pending.

Shell's 2012 drill season had earlier been the subject of a 60-day review by the U.S. Department of Interior that concluded Shell was ill-prepared for Alaska's marine rigors, had not adequately overseen contractors and had committed other lapses.

Pete Slaiby, Shell's vice president for Alaska operations, declined at the hearing to speak about the investigations. He did note that drilling operations - the first in open waters in Alaska's Arctic in 15 years - were completed safely.   Continued...

A Shell logo is seen at a petrol station in London January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor