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Parnell advocates for Shell's 2013 drilling plan

Jill Burke
The Arctic Challenger, a barge Royal Dutch Shell is renovating to use in Arctic drilling operations.
Courtesy Shell Oil
Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, 17th Coast Guard District commander, Capt. Paul Mehler, federal on-scene coordinator for the Kulluk mishap, and Sean Churchfield, Shell’s incident commander, discuss the situation with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Jan. 1, 2013.
USGS Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield photo
The Arctic Challenger with the newly redesigned and repaired Containment Dome move away from the Port of Bellingham, Wash. on Dec. 12. The challenger had been moored since returning in September 2012 after a catastrophic failure of the first iteration of their containment process.
TJ Guiton photo
Approximate location where Royal Dutch Shell's drilling ship Kulluk grounded on Sitkalidak Island, Alaska.
Coast Guard photo via Ground Trekking Truth
A night shot of the workers and equipment showing a markedly armored containment dome to replace the one which suffered a catastrophic failure in September 2012 during the initial testing process in calm, predictable conditions in the Salish Sea off of Anacortes, WA. Note the lateral ribs surrounding the upper portion of the dome as well as the outer steel plates to protect the dome from damage and enhance the strength of the structure to the pressures of ocean depths.
TJ Guiton
Ocean Bay on Sitkalidak Island in Alaska, located close to Kodiak Island's southeast shore.
Stacy Studebaker, Kodiak Audubon Society photo
Shell Oil tests their "capping stack" in Everett, Washington on June 25, 2012.
Courtesy Shell Oil
The west end of Sitkalidak Island's shore Ocean Beach, where shoals are visible beneath the waves. Sitkalidak Island is located near Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Creative Commons photo via Ground Truth Trekking
Shell Oil's spill response gear staged in Wainwright. Summer 2011.
Ben Anderson photo
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew evacuates 18 crewmen from Shell Oil's drilling ship Kulluk in 15 to 20-foot seas, 80 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska, on Dec. 29, 2012.
Coast Guard photo
Greenpeace boat crew protest at Shell drill ship Noble Discoverer anchored near Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska. August 5, 2012
Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace
A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak overflies the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tandem towing the mobile drilling unit Kulluk 116 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. The tug Alert from Prince William Sound and the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley from Kodiak are en route to assist.
US Coast Guard photo
Fennica, a Finnish icebreaker contracted to Shell's Arctic project, in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Shell photo
Royal Dutch Shell's Kulluk drillship in the Beaufort Sea in fall 2012.
Royal Dutch Shell photo
Curtis Smith, spokesperson for Shell Oil. June 1, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The anchor-handling vessel, the Alert, tows the drilling unit Kulluk to a safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay, Alaska on Jan. 7, 2013. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.
US Coast Guard photo
Shell Oil's Kulluk platform, in Seattle, May 25, 2012.
Courtesy Senator Begich's office
Shell's Aiviq support vessel in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
Shell photo
The drilling unit Kulluk, towed by the anchor-handling vessel Aiviq, heads to its safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay.
Courtesy Shell
Shell Oil Alaska vice president Pete Slaiby listens to David Hayes, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, speaking at the Arctic Imperative Summit. August 26, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The drilling unit Kulluk, towed by the anchor-handling vessel Aiviq, heads to its safe harbor location in Kiliuda Bay.
Courtesy Shell
Royal Dutch Shell has already begun studying land and sea features to determine the best route and depth to place at least 400 miles of pipelines that can carry crude oil to the trans-Alaska pipeline. The company is considering several options across a wide swath of ocean and tundra. This map was created to provide a general idea of the direction those pipelines will take.
Aaron Jansen illustration
The Kulluk drill rig near Sitkalidak Island off Kodiak
USCG photo
The Shell drilling vessel Noble Discoverer came close to shore in Unalaska on Saturday, July 14.
Kristjan B. Laxfoss photo
The Kulluk drill rig off Kodiak Island on Jan. 2, 2013
USCG photo
Shell Oil's 514-foot drill ship Noble Discoverer sits 68 miles west of Nome on Aug. 29, 2012.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Shell Oil's drill rig Kulluk, grounded off Kodiak Island by an Arctic storm it was supposed to be built to withstand
Shell Oil's exploratory drilling platform departs Seattle for Alaska on June 27, 2012.
Courtesy Vigor Industrial
Royal Dutch Shell's drilling ship, the Kulluk, grounded at remote Sitkalidak Island in Alaska on Jan. 1, 2013.
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis footage
The Arctic Challenger was occupied by Caspian terns while docked in Southern California in 2007.
John Potter / California DFG
Waves crash over the mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, Jan. 1, 2013.
U.S. Coast Guard photo

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell used a Wall Street Journal commentary over the weekend to urge the Obama administration to make a fair assessment of Shell Oil's Arctic drilling program.

After poor weather and towing complications grounded the Kulluk, one of the company's two Arctic drilling rigs, the Interior Department announced it was undertaking an “expedited assessment” of Shell's 2012 activities in Alaska's northern waters, the outcome of which could potentially jeopardize necessary permits to continue the drilling program.

Parnell is critical of the federal review, noting none of Alaska's nearly 600 other vessel casualties in 2012 resulted in an Interior Department review. And, he's concerned the review – if skewed or unfair – has the potential to derail Shell's nearly $5 billion effort to tap offshore oil in Alaska's Arctic.

In his commentary, Parnell points out that the grounding occurred 1,000 miles away from any oil and gas exploration. He also argues that while the grounding was purely a marine transportation accident, it is “being exploited for political purposes in an effort to halt offshore exploration in Alaska.”

"For Alaska's economy and America's energy security, I hope Shell and other energy producers choose to keep their drilling operations in Alaska," Parnell wrote. "But they are rightly concerned about federal hurdles (in the form of permitting delays, investigations, etc.) as they consider whether to drill in Alaska or move investment dollars abroad under more favorable regulatory conditions."

Yet Shell itself may not be at the same level of hand-wringing as Parnell would have the nation believe. On Jan. 31, Shell Chief Executive Peter Voser revealed the grounding, salvage and ongoing recovery of the Kulluk had already cost $90 million, not including anticipated repairs. And although Voser would not speculate on whether the Alaska drilling fleet would be in working order in time for the 2013 drilling season, he acknowledged the Arctic remains a sensible place for the company to do business.

According to the Financial Times, “Mr. Voser insisted that despite the short-term problems, it made sense for Shell to be in the Arctic, saying it contained roughly 20 percent of the world’s yet-to-be-discovered oil and gas resources.”

Read the governor's full opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal

Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com