NTSB blames Shell for wreck of Arctic drilling ship

NTSB blames Shell for wreck of Arctic drilling ship
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is putting the blame squarely on Royal Dutch Shell’s shoulders for the late 2012 grounding of an offshore drilling rig it owned on an Alaska island.

The report released Thursday came weeks after the Obama administration gave Shell the green light to try again to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean. The grounding was only the end of a series of mishaps in Shell’s aborted 2012 drilling attempt.

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The NTSB blamed the grounding and wreck of the Kulluk hours before midnight on Dec. 31 at Sitkalidak Island on Shell’s “inadequate assessment of the risk,” it said.

“No single error or mechanical failure led to this accident,” the NTSB said. “Rather, shortcomings in the design of a plan with an insufficient margin of safety allowed the accident to take place.”

Investigators said Shell knew of the risks of moving the Kulluk through the Gulf of Alaska but went ahead anyway.

“The plan was created to move the [rig] at a time of year with a known likelihood of severe weather conditions for reasons unrelated to operational safety,” the board said.

The Kulluk does not have its own motive power, so it was being towed by another boat toward Seattle for storage.

The report quotes an email from the master of the towing boat to a crew member on the rig during the trip, writing, “I believe that this length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing guarantees an ***kicking.”

Its tow line snapped and crews were unable to recover the rig, causing it to ground on the uninhabited island, damaging it beyond repair.

President Obama defended his decision to permit Shell to drill Thursday in a Twitter question and answer session.

“We're setting the highest possible standards,” he wrote, adding that his staff rejected Shell’s first application to drill this summer.

Administration officials said they have incorporated lessons learned from the 2012 attempt into their review of Shell’s current application and their oversight of the activities.