Will Arctic Challenger keep Shell from drilling in the Arctic this year?

SEATTLE – Shell Oil has not had a good week as it continues to work toward drilling for oil in the Arctic. Not only has the Arctic Challenger, the vessel that will be charged with containing any oil spills that occur during drilling, been fined this week for illegal discharges, but Secretary of the Interior went so far as to tell reporters during a conference call this week that if Coast Guard requirements for the Challenger are not met, “there won’t be Shell exploration efforts that will occur this year.”

As the LA Times reports, the spills from the Challenger this past three weeks have been relatively minor, only incurring a $250 fine, but they are certainly a continuing embarrassment for Shell. The discharges were of hydraulic fluid, of roughly a quart each, and they occurred while the Challenger is being retrofit by Superior Energy Marine Technical Services in Bellingham, Wash. The Times reports that these small incidents, along with other delays, have caused the target date for finish to be pushed back from tomorrow to August 30, and Coast Guard officials told the paper that “several major systems still remain to be completed before certification can occur.”

In fact, as many as 400 inspection items remain to be satisfied. 

Without the Arctic Challenger, Shell cannot begin drilling, and time is of the essence. Shell is required, the National Journal reports, to be out of the Chukchi Sea by Sept. 24, and to be out of the Beaufort Sea by the end of October. 

Shell issued a statement Monday saying it understood that drilling should not begin until the Arctic Challenger is ready, but still hopes to begin drilling this year. “Progress related to the final construction of the Arctic Challenger containment barge remains steady,” said the statement from Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh. “We continue to work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to outline a schedule for final inspections and an on-water deployment that would lead to certification. There’s no set timeline for the completion of this important process.”

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