Suit to Obtain Arctic Offshore Drilling Safety Data
Key Oil Spill Prevention and Response Documents Still Not Released to Public
Washington, DC — As Royal Dutch Shell prepares to drill in the Alaska’s remote Chukchi Sea, much of the information detailing the safety and reliability of those planned operations have not been released to the public, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Nor have the test results required by relatively new federal offshore rules seen the light of day.
In a lawsuit filed today in federal district court under the Freedom of Information Act, PEER is pressing the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which has jurisdiction over offshore drilling in federal waters, including the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf, to disclose, among other items –
- The required independent third-party certifications by the Registered Professional Engineers for well design and integrity, Blow Out Preventer functionality, kick detection and management, and well abandonment plans for all Chukchi wells to be drilled this summer;
- Results of all function testing this year on all components of Shell’s spill Source Control and Containment Equipment, including the capping stack, containment dome, and collection equipment aboard the Arctic Challenger; and
- Results of all oil spill response drills Shell has conducted in the Arctic region as well as a description of the systems in place to record and report near-miss events.
“BSEE should have most of this information at its fingertips. Its inability, or unwillingness, to produce the independent engineering compliance certifications of the safety systems is inexcusable,” said Rick Steiner, an expert in oil spill prevention and response, retired University of Alaska professor and PEER board member. “With the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, we learned to insist on stringent government oversight of offshore oil drilling. The public deserves to have answers to these technical risk-management questions before drilling begins in high-risk hydrocarbon zones in the Chukchi Sea next month.”
BSEE was created in the fallout of the abject failure of its predecessor agency, the Minerals Management Service, to anticipate and respond to the catastrophic BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The jury remains out on how much better federal offshore safeguards are today. At the same time, Shell’s advance into the Arctic has been plagued by mishaps, including damage to its ice-breaker Fennica.
The material PEER seeks would answer questions about what steps both BSEE and Shell have taken to ensure that risks are minimized and response capacity is adequate to meet anticipated contingencies. BSEE, however, claims it cannot provide a single document until after the 2015 drilling season is over.
“We are simply asking BSEE to document how it functions as an independent regulator of the oil industry but we have yet to receive an answer – which perhaps is the answer,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is also requesting BSEE to spell out the whistleblower protections in place for workers of Shell, its contractors and subcontractors. “Frankly, this information should have been publicly posted already to give the public some reason for confidence after previous fiascos in this arena.”