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Shell’s antiquated Arctic drilling fleet

When you consider what Shell is proposing to use in the harsh Arctic environment to drill its exploration wells (the refurbished but antiquated Frontier Discoverer, with the obsolete and beat-up Kulluk as a backup rig), one wonders whether Shell USA management truly understands the nature of the environment they are going to be operating in.

From a former employee of Shell Oil USA

Attached is a link to an article about the ODECO Ocean Ranger (right), a large modern semi-submersible rig that sank during a storm. It was drilling a well for Mobil (now ExxonMobil) in the Hibernia oil field, offshore Nova Scotia, Canada.

(Ocean Ranger vanishes off Canada)

This case is interesting because there are parallels with the problems BP had with its production platform ‘Thunder Horse’, which almost sank in a hurricane that is was supposedly designed to withstand.

‘A design flaw (porthole too low) and poor worker training were the cause of the sinking of the Ocean Ranger. Poor worker training was essentially the cause of the Deep Water Horizon disaster. And a design flaw, a valve installed backwards, almost sank BP’s Thunder Horse production platform in the hurricane. All three incidents/accidents were avoidable if oil company and rig company management had been doing their jobs.’

Did I ever mention
‘Murphy’s Law’ to you?

The Ocean Ranger and Thunder Horse were ultra-modern rigs. When you consider what Shell is proposing to use in the harsh Arctic environment to drill its exploration wells (the refurbished but antiquated Frontier Discoverer, with the obsolete and beat-up Kulluk as a backup rig), one wonders whether Shell USA management truly understands the nature of the environment they are going to be operating in. There appears to be a real question of competency with Shell management in this regard.

The Kulluk was not moved from Canada to Alaska until early September. That means if Shell had been drilling, and had encountered a problem, there would not have been a backup rig for support. Furthermore, it appears the rig is in need of additional work before it is really serviceable again.

It is also interesting to note the extended period of time it actually took to develop the Hibernia field. It did not go into production until 1997. The problem was with the design of a suitable production platform that would withstand the rigors of the sub-Arctic environment it would be operating in. The resulting production platform design is an engineering marvel. Shell will likewise have to develop an ‘engineering marvel’ for a production platform if it ever hopes to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the shallow offshore Arctic seas.

The nature of the Arctic environment is such that there are going to be serious environment incidents if oil and gas is allowed to be exploited. How serious those ‘incidents’ will be is a matter of how closely regulated the industry is in both US and Canadian waters. An incident and environment disaster in US waters can become a Canadian environmental disaster simply due to ocean current flow patterns, etc.

http://members.tele2.nl/the_sims/rig/o-ranger.htm

It would seem to me that the American and Canadian governments need to get together to best decide how they are going to regulate oil and gas exploration in an extremely sensitive and environment both nations share. Maybe they should set up a joint regulatory agency with real ‘regulatory teeth’. An agency with environmental and worker and health safety authority, as well as regulatory authority over drilling and production operations. Something like what the Norwegians have. I think the Canadians are ahead of the Americans in that regard, but not by much. I do think the Canadian regulatory agencies are much more insulated from ‘political pressure’ and ‘industry influence’ than their American counterparts, however.

You might want to bring people’s attention to this list of ‘rig incidents’. It illustrates how common ‘rig incidents’ really are: http://members.tele2.nl/the_sims/rig/losses.htm

Some of your readers may also get a kick out of this story. It is about the rig that drilled into a salt mine. What a cock-up.

http://members.tele2.nl/the_sims/rig/lakepeigneur.htm

I found this History Channel production on the Texaco salt mine fiasco. Enjoy. It has some interesting footage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_feWtkSucvE

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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