U.S. EPA Fines Shell for Arctic Air Pollution Violations

Mike Schuler
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September 9, 2013

Shell’s Kulluk and Discoverer rigs set sail for the Arctic in July 2012 from Vigor Industrial’s Seattle shipyard. Image courtesy Vigor Industrial

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined units of Royal Dutch Shell more than $1 million over violations of the company’s Clean Air Act permits related to their Arctic drilling program in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, off the North Slope of Alaska.

The EPA said that based on their inspections and Shell’s excess emission reports, EPA documented numerous air permit violations for Shell’s Discoverer drillship (23 violations in total) and the Kulluk conical drilling unit (11 in total), along with the associated fleets, during the two months the vessels operated during the 2012 drilling season.

As part of the settlement, Shell has agreed to pay a $710,000 penalty for violations of the Discoverer air permit and a $390,000 penalty for violations of the Kulluk air permit.

The EPA issued the Clean Air Act Outer Continental Shelf permits for Shell’s operations in early 2012, setting emission limits, pollution control requirements and monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements on the vessels and their support fleets of icebreakers, spill response vessels, and supply ships.

The EPA violation notices for Shell’s Discoverer and Kulluk air permits were first issued in January 2013.

Shell did not operate in 2013 under the air permits due to a series of mishaps that culminated in the Kulluk running aground on an uninhabited island in Alaska on Dec. 31, 2012 while being towed to Seattle for maintenance, forcing the rigs back to Asia for repairs.

It is estimated that Shell has spent nearly $5 billion on its Arctic drilling program so far.

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