About a year and a half ago, Shell Oil started drilling in Alaska. Two weeks later, they had their first accident. The Kulluk, a rig loaded with 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel, was being towed to Seattle, largely to avoid Alaskan state taxes, when it broke free of its tow line and drifted out of control before running aground. The 18-crew members aboard the rig had to be airlifted out by the Coast Guard amid 50-mph winds and 18-foot swells. Luckily, no oil spilled. The Kulluk had undergone a $200 million upgrade to prepare it for the harsh Artic climate. Of course, nowhere in that $200 million did anyone set aside any money to give the damn thing a motor.
The Coast Guard recently released a report on the accident and concluded that Shell had “made an ill-advised decision to tow its drill rig … to avoid millions of dollars in tax liabilities.” It took the Coast Guard fifteen months to come to that conclusion. They must have had their best team of monkeys working around the clock. My favorite part of the report is the e-mail the Coast Guard dug up from the tow master of the Aiviq, the tow ship. Writing to the tow master of the Kulluk, he said “To be blunt I believe that this length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing guarantees an ass kicking.” I assume the subject line of the e-mail was “Re: Doomed to Fail Mission.”
Shell responded to the report by saying they would “take the findings seriously.” Of course they will. I’m sure they have a Very Serious Findings Room at the home office, where all the executives sit down, read the report, and think about what they’ve done. Then they take turns sharing their feelings about how they’ve harmed the environment. Then someone cracks up and they all start laughing and they bring in the coke and hookers and get on with their day.
Yeah, I don’t expect Shell to do much. They’ve already spent over $4 billion on leases in the US Arctic. That money isn’t for building theme parks.
And we have to drill in Alaska, right? I mean, we have so choice. Estimates say that Alaska could hold 13% of the world’s oil and 30% of the world’s natural gas. I’m no statistician, but I estimate those estimates to be 100% full of crap.
How do they even come up with these estimates? Do they throw out a bunch of numbers until they come up with one that sounds big enough to be interesting but small enough to still seem real? Because 13% sounds exactly like that kind of number. If they said 7% I would think, “Nah, that’s not worth it.” If they said 22% I’d think, “They must see me as some kind of rube.” But 13% is right there in the happy zone, where I feel comfortable considering it.
So they’ll keep drilling, and the accidents will keep happening, as they always do. There will eventually be spills. I just hope next time they decide to move a giant oil rig in the middle of the winter to avoid a few taxes they listen to the guy whose job it is to tow it. Dude does this for a living. He probably knows what he’s talking about.