Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic problems mounted as it emerged that hundreds of gallons of fuel may have leaked during the grounding of its Kulluk rig and the US Interior Secretary branded the company’s mishaps “troubling”.
Unified Command, which is managing the response to the Kulluk accident, said that up to 272 gallons of diesel fuel may have leaked from the tanks of four survival boats , which were dislodged from the Arctic rig “either while it was towed or when it grounded” off Alaska.
“One tank is intact, two tanks have been damaged and one is inaccessible to be able to determine its condition,” it said.
The scale of any leak would be assessed when the tanks are recovered and mitigation action taken “if any fluids are identified to have been released on the shoreline”.
While the potential leak is small in volume - equivalent to less than 10 barrels of oil - any spill would be highly embarrassing for Shell (LSE: RDSB.L - news) , which has staked its reputation on safe operations in the Arctic.
Environmentalists warn that oil spills in the region could cause untold damage to the delicate ecosystem.
The Interior Department this week launched a “high-level” review into Shell’s Arctic problems and warned the findings would inform its decisions on issuing further permits for the region.
US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters: “It’s troubling that there was such as series of mishaps.... There is a troubling sense I have that so many things went wrong.”
Shell’s campaign in 2012 was blighted by a string of setbacks including problems with its oil spill response barge and containment equipment.
The US Coast Guard is investigating both the grounding of the Kulluk and problems aboard another rig, the Noble Discover.
Mr Salazar also added to warnings that, irrespective of the outcome of the Interior Department’s review, Shell’s 2013 drilling plans could be derailed by damage caused to the Kulluk when it was grounded.
The Kulluk is due to drill in the Beaufort Sea and is also required as backup if Shell is to drill with the Noble Discoverer in the Chukchi Sea. “It may be that Shell isn’t even ready to move forward in 2013, because of assessments taking place of the Kulluk,” Bloomberg quoted Mr Salazar as saying.
Shell has warned it is too early to say how its drilling plans will be affected by the incident.