skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Chuck Clusen’s Blog

Unbelievable! Shell Grounded the Kulluk Drill Rig a Fortnight ago -- Now Shell Has Been Cited by EPA for Numerous Clean Air Violations

Chuck Clusen

Posted January 11, 2013

, , , , , ,
Share | | |

Shell’s rush to drill in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the Chukchi Sea not only produced another blunder this month, when its Kulluk drill rig, carrying 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and petroleum products on board, ran aground near Alaska’s Kodiak Island, but now it has been revealed Shell’s operations this past summer repeatedly violated the terms of its air permits.

The grounding of Shell’s drilling rig is not an isolated incident. It is part of a larger pattern of risk and failure in which Shell has proven that oil companies are no match for the frigid temperatures, churning seas, punishing winds and prolonged darkness of the fragile, remote Arctic region.

Now, we find out that Shell’s operations were not just incompetent, they were also illegal.  Will this turn out to be a pattern too? Both of Shell’s drill rigs, the Discoverer and the Kulluk have been cited by EPA for violating numerous conditions of their clean air permits.   Not only has the Discoverer violated its original permit, but it also violated the more lenient interim limits of the administrative compliance order that EPA issued before drilling began.   EPA has terminated the compliance order which served in effect as a revised permit.

The violations for the Discoverer included failure to install required air pollution control equipment, failure to properly calibrate air pollution monitoring equipment, operation of unpermitted propulsion engines, numerous exceedances of emission limits, and failure to timely report such exceedances.

All told, for the Discoverer’s 43 days of operation, Shell filed 32 reports as required by EPA detailing permit violations.  On at least 25 occasions, the reported violations entailed pollution emissions that exceeded the levels allowed by the permit or compliance order. The emission limits were intended to prevent Shell from polluting at unhealthy and environmentally consequential levels. 

Shell’s response has been to request that its air permit for the Discoverer be weakened further. 

EPA likewise cited the Kulluk for “violat[ing] numerous conditions in the permit.”  The Kulluk’s violations included failure to fulfill all air pollution monitoring requirements, several exceedances of emission limits, and the failure to timely report permit deviations.

The clean air violations like the large pattern of risk and failure is why NRDC and our partners are calling on President Obama to direct his Interior Department to immediately suspend, re-evaluate and then end all oil and gas operations in the Arctic Ocean.



Share | | |


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Chuck Clusen’s blog

Feeds: Stay Plugged In