Drilling delay proves it's dangerous - Greenpeace

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 05:00 19/09/2012

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A decision by Shell to postpone drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic is a reminder of the dangers Taranaki faces with deep-water drilling, protesters say.

On Monday, Shell postponed its Arctic drilling programme in high-potential blocks off Alaska because an oil spill response barge failed during testing of an "Arctic containment system".

The containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger was damaged.

"We are disappointed the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards," Shell said. "But we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied we are fully prepared to do it safely."

Last week, just a day after it began drilling its first hole there, Shell's drill ship, Noble Discoverer, was unhooked from anchors to escape encroaching ice.

The time needed to repair the dome as well as encroaching ice sheets forced Shell to abandoned hopes of striking oil in the Arctic this year. "In order to lay a strong foundation for operations in 2013, we will forgo drilling into hydrocarbon zones this year," Shell said.

Last week the Taranaki Daily News reported that the first deep-water drilling for oil and gas off the New Zealand coast was set to start by the end of next year.

Texas-based exploration company Anadarko Petroleum signed a three-year drilling contract with Noble Corporation for the use of the drill ship Noble Bob Douglas.

Greenpeace NZ spokesman Simon Boxer said he was concerned that Anadarko was not bringing a relief rig and Shell's containment equipment failure this week highlighted those fears.

"Obviously, when it comes to deep water, they're taking enormous risks because when something does go wrong we're going to be waiting many months . . . before they can even get a relief rig to New Zealand," Mr Boxer said.

The nearest rig to Taranaki was off the west coast of Australia, he said.

The economic risks far outweighed the economic benefits, he said.

Shell's Arctic drilling postponement was a major victory for Greenpeace, he said.

Had Greenpeace not put the spotlight on Shell's operations, the regulations surrounding their operations would not have been as stringent. "They can't bend the rules at all now."

Shell said it would begin as many wells in the Arctic as time remaining allowed.

It had until September 24 to drill into oil reservoirs in the Chukchi Sea, according to United States rules designed to accommodate the dangers of drilling in increasing ice and deteriorating weather in the environmentally sensitive region.

The Noble Discoverer hit international headlines in February this year when seven Greenpeace activists boarded the ship in Port Taranaki in protest at Arctic drilling.

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The ship also slipped its mooring and drifted perilously close to the shore in the Aleutian Islands in July.

In April last year the Noble Discoverer also struck trouble in Taranaki waters after huge seas caused some anchor lines to fail.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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