Shell's second Arctic drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, owned by Noble Corp., experienced a separate set of problems, starting with a vibration its propulsion system after leaving the Chukchi Sea in early November. The vessel was inspected in the Aleutian Islands port of Dutch Harbor and the vibration problem got worse after the ship sailed for Seward.
Coast Guard inspectors in Seward found what the agency describes as several major issues regarding crew safety and pollution prevention equipment. Investigators ordered the vessel to remain in Seward more than two weeks while deficiencies were addressed.
Drilling in Arctic waters last year was limited to top holes and other preliminary work. Neither vessel was allowed to drill into petroleum-bearing rock because Shell's oil spill response barge was unable to achieve certification in time for the short open-water season. Shell's spill response plan calls for the barge to carry a containment dome that could hover over a compromised well and funnel oil and gas to the surface. The dome was damaged during testing Sept. 15.
Shell Alaska vice president Pete Slaiby said in October a faulty electrical connection associated with one of the valves caused the valve to open and the device descended rapidly, seriously damaging buoyancy chambers.
Salazar said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau will lead the Shell review. It will look at safety management systems, oversight of contractors and the company's ability to meet the strict Arctic standards, he said.
Ostebo said the Coast Guard investigation of the Kulluk will review the cause of the accident looking at the full scope of all towing vessels, towing equipment, procedures and personnel involved. The investigation likely will take several months, he said.
No date for the Begich hearing has been set. The Senate will reconvene in late January.
Environmental groups strongly oppose Arctic drilling.
Greenpeace spokesman Dan Howells said a review is long overdue and that 60 days may not be enough.
Mike Levine, an attorney for Oceana, said a broad public review about whether companies can operate safely in the Arctic should include other expert agencies.
"We hope this is more than a paper exercise," he said. "The Department of the Interior, after all, is complicit in all of Shell's failures. It granted the approvals and the permits that allowed Shell to operate and ultimately created the situation that led to the Kulluk running aground."