Shell was not prepared for the challenges of towing large vessels in the Arctic, the Coast Guard says in a report detailing the Dec. 31, 2012, incident in which the drilling rig Kulluk to run aground while being towed out of Alaska, in part to avoid millions of dollars in state taxes. The report is the latest in a string of bad news for Shell, which said earlier this year it won’t be restarting Arctic drilling activities this year. The 152-page report, which includes a detailed account of the days-long incident, concludes that Shell’s towing plans “were not adequate for the winter towing operation crossing the Gulf of Alaska.”

– There were a number of other contributing factors, according to the report, including using just one towing vessel in bad weather, taking a route too close to the coast, a lack of formalized risk assessment, the premature evacuation of the Kulluk, and using response vessels with inadequate abilities (though it praises their crews). The report includes a litany of safety recommendations, including identifying minimal requirements for towing in the ‘unique Arctic environment.’

Weather blame: The report notes that extreme weather made towing the Kulluk extremely difficult. “The weather in this case had a constant negative impact during the course of this casualty. No less than four significant low pressure systems created hazardous sea and wind conditions, particularly during the response efforts. The storms encountered were extreme, and the frequency added to the complications as there was inadequate time between storms to move the Kulluk to a safe harbor.”

Recommended penalties: The report also says there is sufficient evidence to level penalties against Edison Chouest Offshore, the builder of the towing vessel Aiviq, and several crew members. It recommends turning those matters over to the proper authorities. “I am most troubled by the significant number and nature of the potential violations of law and regulations,” writes Rear Admiral Joseph A. Servido, the assistant commandant for prevention policy, in his response. He adds that “if the potential violations of law and regulations noted in the report actually occurred, far greater levels of oversight will be required.”

The report: http://bit.ly/1fDRcbJ

SHELL RESPONSE: “We appreciate the US Coast Guard’s thorough investigation into the Kulluk towing incident and will take the findings seriously,” Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said. “Already, we have implemented lessons learned from our internal review of our 2012 operations. Those improvements will be measured against the findings in the USCG report as well as recommendations from the US Department of Interior.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “The service has made a number of good recommendations to improve the safety of maritime activities as exploration of the Arctic moves forward. I believe that we can safely develop our energy resources in the Arctic, but it requires that we adhere to world-class safety standards.”

Sen. Mark Begich: “I remain a strong supporter of responsible development of the Arctic’s resources. … The Coast Guard’s investigation and recommendations here will help guide that development and gives me greater confidence about the role the Arctic will play in Alaska’s future.”

Alaska Wilderness League Executive Director Cindy Shogan: “The report continues to demonstrate that no oil company is ready to drill in the Arctic. Shell Oil was forced to abandon its plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean in 2013 due to its own lack of preparedness and technical failures, together with Alaska’s harsh and unpredictable conditions.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

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