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Dear Shell: Please Be Honest About Risks from Your Arctic Ocean Oil Drilling This Summer

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The letter below was sent to Royal Dutch Shell at The Hague and Alaska, seeking their confirmation and clarification of several important issues regarding Shell's Arctic Ocean drilling plans this summer off northern Alaska. Alaskans have a lot of experience with broken promises, deceptions, and misrepresentations from oil companies over the past 40 years (e.g., Exxon Valdez, BP spills onshore in the Arctic, etc.), as well with oil executives simply picking up and running south after problems arise.

Therefore it seems important that Shell clarifies, on the public record, these issues before a serious problem develops with its offshore exploratory drilling this summer in the Arctic Ocean.

* * * * *

May 15, 2012 (via email)

Mr. Peter Voser, Chief Executive Officer
Royal Dutch Shell plc
The Hague, Netherlands

Mr. Peter Slaiby, Vice President
Shell Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska USA

RE: Confirmation/clarification of issues regarding Shell's 2012 Arctic Ocean drilling plans off Alaska

Dear Mr. Voser and Mr. Slaiby,

As you prepare for your 2012 Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea exploratory oil and gas drilling program off the Arctic coast of Alaska, I wanted to respectfully ask for your confirmation/clarification of several significant issues of public interest prior to commencement of your drilling program.

On behalf of Shell, Mr. Slaiby has asserted that Shell's Arctic Ocean drilling program will be safe, held to high international standards, and comply with all applicable laws and regulations. In that regard, I realize that your staff has been working closely with the U.S. Department of the Interior, the State of Alaska, and others.

Shell has also suggested that it intends to be honest, forthright, and transparent with the public throughout this process. Thus, by way of this letter, I would appreciate your point-by-point confirmation/clarification, for the public record, regarding the following issues of broader public concern, that:

  1. Shell recognizes that the existing environment of the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea in which its drilling is to be conducted, is one of, if not the, most ecologically pristine and sensitive environments in which Shell has ever operated globally.
  2. Shell confirms it will employ a Risk Reduction standard in their 2012 Arctic drilling program of As Low As Reasonably Practicable, or ALARP. The use of ALARP implies that there are additional Risk Reduction measures which could further reduce risk that, due to cost, Shell has opted to not employ. I would appreciate an itemized list of all such potential Risk Reduction measures that are deemed by Shell as "too costly," and their cost estimate.
  3. Shell confirms it remains opposed to the establishment of an Arctic Regional Citizens' Advisory Council (Arctic RCAC), as first proposed in 2009 and later in 2011 by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, that would engage all major stakeholders in providing oversight to industrial activities in the U.S. Arctic, including Shell's oil and gas drilling operations.
  4. Shell commits to accept full liability and responsibility for its Arctic Ocean drilling operations, including for all subcontractors involved.
  5. Shell commits to a zero-marine-discharge policy for all of its vessels, in particular any and all drilling fluids and wastes.
  6. Shell has yet to field-test and confirm the operability of its wellhead capping stack for emergency well control in Arctic waters, but commits to doing such, with independent verification and opportunity for public witnesses, prior to drilling.
  7. Shell confirms that all drill crew and other operational personnel aboard its drilling rigs/ships will have immediate stop-work authority during well design and drilling, if they feel a particular operation is not safe or could jeopardize well integrity.
  8. Shell commits to abide the U.S. DOI order intended to enhance late season blowout control options, shortening by 38 days the drilling season window for its drillship Noble Discoverer in the Chukchi Sea, ending Sept. 24; yet Shell does not commit to adopt this same precautionary measure for the Kulluk drilling in the Beaufort Sea. Thus, Shell intends to continue drilling in the Beaufort Sea until the end of October, well past the sea ice minimum, thereby compromising any late season well control response.
  9. Shell believes that potential reservoir pressures to be encountered will be modest, but acknowledges that it will not actually know this until reservoirs are penetrated. Shell recognizes that actual reservoir pressures encountered could potentially be higher than anticipated.
  10. Shell confirms that, despite its Risk Reduction program, a loss of well control (e.g., a "blowout") causing a major offshore oil and gas release during its 2012 exploratory Arctic Ocean drilling remains a distinct possibility.
  11. Shell is aware of, and confirms as a potential worst case scenario, the federal government's modeling of a Very Large Oil Spill from its Chukchi Sea drilling program that would continue for 74 days, spill over 2 million barrels of oil, spread over 200,000 square miles (an area larger than the state of California), and oil over 850 miles of shoreline, potentially spreading into Russian waters.
  12. Shell is aware, and confirms that, despite the government's Very Large Oil Spill scenario referenced above, Shell's approved oil-spill-response plan for the Arctic plans for a "worst-case" blowout flow rate of just 25,000 barrels per day over 30 days, for a total discharge of 750,000 barrels.
  13. Shell understands and confirms that a major offshore spill into the relatively pristine Arctic marine ecosystem would likely have catastrophic and long-lasting ecological, economic, and social/cultural impacts.
  14. Shell understands and confirms that it would be impossible to effectively restore the Arctic marine and coastal ecosystem from a major oil spill.
  15. Shell acknowledges and confirms that, despite having a robust oil spill response capability on site, it is probable that most of the oil spilled in a major release would not be recovered, and thus would remain in the environment as it spreads and degrades, as has been the case with every major marine oil spill in the world.
  16. Shell acknowledges and confirms that it has yet to secure a formal, cooperative oil spill response agreement with the governments of Russia and Canada, whose Arctic waters and resources are also at risk from oil potentially spilled by Shell's drilling operations in U.S. Arctic waters.
  17. Shell confirms it has yet to conduct a full, on-water, spill-response drill in the Arctic but commits to doing so, with opportunity for public witnesses, prior to drilling.
  18. Shell commits to waive the current U.S. OPA 90 financial liability limitation for offshore drilling operations of $75 million, as BP did for the Gulf of Mexico 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
  19. Shell commits to pay in full any and all legitimate valuation of damages it causes to the Arctic environment, while recognizing the inherent scientific uncertainties regarding the current baseline condition of the Arctic marine ecosystem. In the event of a spill, Shell commits to not argue that lack of baseline scientific information for the Arctic Ocean ecosystem precludes or limits a reasonable assessment of, and compensation for, natural resource damage, including environmental damage that cannot be directly restored.
  20. Shell commits to pay in full, or otherwise compensate as possible, any and all legitimate economic, social, cultural, and subsistence losses caused by its operations in the Arctic.
  21. Shell has not committed to offset the carbon emissions from its 2012 Arctic Ocean exploratory drilling operations, nor has Shell committed to offset the millions of tons of carbon that it anticipates producing over the lifetime of its Arctic offshore operations, which would enter the global atmosphere and oceans, further exacerbating climate change.
  22. Shell commits to fully disclose, in your reply to this letter, all financial donations/contributions Shell has made to political campaigns, candidates, issues, and public officials in Alaska and U.S. over the past five years, whether such disclosure is required by law or not (e.g., including any Super PAC contributions, etc.).

As a related matter, a large part of what Shell promises with respect to environmental sensitivity in its Arctic OCS drilling program comes directly from promises that Mr. Slaiby has made, on behalf of Shell, to the people of Alaska and the United States. Thus, I also ask that you commit that both of you and all members of the Board of Directors of Royal Dutch Shell plc. accept personal responsibility for any and all damage caused by Shell's Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) drilling program.

Further, I ask that Royal Dutch Shell plc. commit to accept all of Mr. Slaiby's promises made regarding the Arctic drilling projects as legal commitments of the company.

I trust you will appreciate the constructive, public interest nature of this request, in that the above issues are important to Alaskans and other U.S. citizens, who collectively own the Arctic OCS where your drilling projects are to be conducted.

As the public is being asked to accept Shell and government assurances prior to the commencement of your 2012 Arctic drilling program, I would respectfully encourage you to expedite your point-by-point reply to the issues of public concern raised above.

Thank you in advance for your prompt and considered attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Richard Steiner, Professor (University of Alaska, ret.)
Oasis Earth
Box 666, 9138 Arlon St., A3
Anchorage, AK 99507
richard.g.steiner@gmail.com
907-360-4503

cc.

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