Noble Drilling will plead guilty to environmental and maritime crimes for operating the drillship Noble Discoverer and the drilling barge Kulluk in violation of federal law in Alaska in 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in early December.
As part of the plea agreement filed in federal court on Dec. 8, London-based Noble will plead guilty to eight felony offenses, pay $12.2 million dollars in fines and community service payments, implement a comprehensive environmental compliance plan, and will be placed on probation for four years, the DOJ said in a statement.
In addition, Noble will implement an environmental management system for all mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) owned or operated by the company, the DOJ said.
Two years ago, Shell sent the anchor-handling tug Aiviq to tow the 266'-dia. drilling barge Kulluk from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Seattle for repairs. It never made it. Instead the rig broke numerous tow lines during a storm in the Gulf of Alaska and ended up grounded 10 days after it left Dutch Harbor. The incident added a dubious chapter in the history of drilling for oil and gas in Alaska and the Arctic.
Noble’s offenses include knowingly failing to maintain an accurate oil record book and an accurate International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate, knowingly failing to maintain a ballast water record book, and knowingly and willfully failing to notify the U.S. Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the drillship 514'x71' Noble Discoverer. At the time of the offenses, the Noble Discoverer was operating under contract with Shell Offshore and Shell Development for the purpose of drilling in the Arctic in Alaska.
“These charges principally relate to deficiencies and maintenance issues raised by the U.S. Coast Guard during an inspection of the NobleDiscoverer following a successful drilling season in offshore Alaska during 2012,” Noble said in a statement following the DOJ release. “Issues noted related to the Kulluk focused on recordkeeping. Concerns related to the Noble Discoverer have been addressed during the renovation and modernization of the rig which occurred as part of an extensive shipyard program conducted in Korea and Singapore.”
Noble said it has also strengthened its training programs so that its operations “more aptly reflect the company’s deep commitment to safety, compliance and environmental protection.”