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Arctic Whales, Shell Execs & Spider Legs

Earthjustice received some superb video today from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, of Shell’s beat up Arctic drilling rig, the Kulluk, as it was lifted onto a huge dry haul ship to be carried to Asia for repairs:

This comes on the heels of a report from the Department of Interior, which summarized  a 60-day investigation into Shell’s 2012 Arctic Ocean drilling season and was highly critical of the oil giant’s operations.

At a press conference announcing the findings, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared that Shell had “screwed up,” and the report concluded:

Shell’s difficulties have raised serious questions regarding its ability to operate safely and responsibly in the challenging and unpredictable conditions offshore Alaska.

In other news, a Shell stalwart announced this week he’s exiting the scene—partly because of Shell's problem-plagued efforts last summer in the Arctic Ocean. Executive Vice-President Dave Lawrence, in charge of exploration and commercial for Shell’s Upstream Americas division, is to depart this summer after 29 years with the company.

A report out this week says drilling activities can harm endangered bowhead whales, native to the very seas Big Oil wants to drill. The National Marine Fisheries Service analysis reports that increased drilling and other oil exploration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas could have "major" impacts on bowhead whales, even without an oil spill.

And even though Shell called off plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer (just as both of its drill rigs are being carried to Asia for repairs), another big oil company is requesting permission to explore the icy Arctic waters in 2014. ConocoPhillips has submitted drilling and oil spill response plans, but the government has so far refused to make those proposed plans available to the public.

As ill-equipped as Shell looked last summer, ConocoPhillips’ proposal looks even worse. Shell’s huge drill rig, the Kulluk, was helpless as it listed on the rocks of an Alaskan island—even though it was designed to withstand the harsh weather and icy waters of the Arctic Ocean—but ConocoPhillips wants use a warm water drilling rig, called a jack-up rig, to drill in the Arctic’s icy waters. These drill rigs perch on long, spidery legs that extend down to the ocean floor. It is hard to picture such a precarious rig withstanding summer ice floes the size of Manhattan or 35-foot waves and hurricane-force winds. The potential for disaster is obvious.

Earthjustice attorneys will continue to represent clients in challenging flawed and unlawful oil and gas activities that put the Arctic Ocean, its wildlife and its people at risk. Our aim is to promote a clean energy future and protect the pristine American Arctic waters from harmful industrial activities in the short term with a long-term focus of conservation based on the best available science.