Sunday, January 06, 2013

It was Dr. Monnett in the Email, Leaking to Rick Steiner and PEER

Recently, a Shell drilling vessel, the Kulluk,  broke free from it's towing lines in a storm and ran aground.  Personnel on the platform had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and there is now a major effort to refloat the Kulluk and ensure there is no secondary damage from oil leaks and such.  Neven (who else) has a good summary of the situation and can be relied on to update as sensible.

Michael Tobis last month asked Eli to explain why the Department of the Interior was going after Charles Monnett.  The Kulluk is the short answer, more specifically BOEM wanting to approve Shell's drilling plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.  Email leaks from Monnett were used to tie Shell, BOEM and BSEE up in court, delaying the issuance of permits four years from 2008 to late 2012 and indeed, this was the only ground that at the conclusion of their farcical investigation that the DOI Inspector General cited to reprimand Monnett.

A good summary with links to original documents of the final court decision allowing the drilling can be found on the Foreign Policy Blog.
On May 25, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) August 2011 decision to permit Shell to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off Alaska’s north shore. The Native Village of Point Hope and the Inupiat Community of the North Slope had challenged the decision in court, as did non-profit organizations such as Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club. This is the third time that the government has had to defend its approval of Shell’s offshore drilling plans in court. The indigenous groups and NGOs sued the Bureau for approving Shell’s exploration plan, claiming that BOEM “failed to discharge its obligations under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) (PDF available here) in approving Shell Offshore Inc.’s plan for exploratory oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea.”
Drilling in the Chukchi Sea was approved August 30, and on Sept 20, 2012  approval was given to move the Kulluk into the Beaufort Sea to begin preliminary work
WASHINGTON — As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director James A. Watson today announced that Shell will be allowed to move forward with certain limited preparatory activities in the Beaufort Sea offshore Alaska. Today’s action builds upon BSEE’s authorization on August 30 for Shell to conduct similar preparatory activities in the Chukchi Sea, in preparation for potential development activities in the future. . . .
BSEE inspectors are maintaining their full-time presence on the Noble Discoverer drill ship in the Chukchi, and will also be onboard the Kulluk drilling vessel full-time during its operations in the Beaufort Sea, to provide continuous oversight and monitoring of all approved activities.

Shell was anxious to get started given that it has already poured $4.5 billion into the project, money that was not earning a return as long as the issue remained in court, but it's rush has lead to one equipment malfunction after another.  The Foreign Policy Blog has a statement from Shell that is indicative of the pressure on them to start seeing a return from their investment
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith stated, “There are other appeals still pending, such as those of our air quality permits, but the favorable ruling on the exploration plan is a substantial boost for us.” The EPA granted Shell ten air quality permits in September 2011 to permit the Noble Discoverer drillship, the Kulluk drilling unit, and a support fleet of icebreakers, oil spill response vessels, and supply ships to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas for up to 120 days each year. As Shell is hopeful for its prospects this summer, both the Noble Discoverer and Kulluk are being outfitted and “winterized” in a Seattle shipyard in preparation to sail to Dutch Harbor, Alaska in mid-June.
In September, they damaged a containment dome designed as one of the layers to deal with possible well blow outs.  That meant that the only work that could be started was to drill top holes, sea floor infrastructure needed before drilling deep for oil and gas and that is why the Kulluk was being moved into from the Beaufort Sea as late in the year as it was.  They moved the equipment up there as fast as they could in September, even without the containment structure, to drill the top holes  The Kulluk grounding may be the last straw.

Which now allows Eli to show MT the little men behind the curtain.  The idiotic act of Eric May, DOI IG special inspector was a futile effort to find something else to hang Monnett with.  Dr. Monnett had a strong whistle blower defense, especially because the 9th Circuit had ruled in 2008 that the emails showed BOEM had messed up their assessment of the safety of Shell's drilling plans.

Rick Steiner, the U Alaska Professor that Monnett leaked to, got tossed out of the Sea Grant program for being a general pain in the butt, and his part in this program may have contributed

PEER knew damn well what was going on and hid the cheese. Now some, not Eli of course, might look at this and advise Scott Mandia to take care when dealing with PEER.  Those folk play inside baseball

Jeffrey Gleason was collateral damage.  Eli thinks that he left BOEM and Alaska as the only way of getting out from between his bosses and Monnett.

The remaining question is how high up in DOI the effort to get rid of Monnett and hide the reason why went, especially because of the intersection with Steiner, the Sea Grant Program and NOAA  This is key from an environmental point of view, because it speaks to the Obama administration's attitude toward the Arctic environment.

UPDATE:  Unfortunately it looks like the Keystone pipeline is a done deal.  Rick Piltz points to that as the reason EPA administrator Lisa Jackson threw in the towel


David B. Benson said...

The view from inside the Beltway is not pretty.

ligne said...

the first link should of course point to , and not to some broken fragment of HTML :-)

Anonymous said...

you want to know how high it goes, watch to see if the keystone pipeline is given the go ahead.

Anonymous said...

"the Obama administration's attitude toward the Arctic environment" can be assessed quite independently of the Monnett affair.


WhiteBeard said...

Kulluk is again under tow of the Aiviq, the vessel Shell purpose built to operate with the drill rig.

Tenney Naumer said...

Go to WhiteBeard's link and zoom in.

Looks like they lost the tow a couple of times already.

dhogaza said...

"Looks like they lost the tow a couple of times already."

Either that or whoever's in charge of the tow is seriously drunk ...

EliRabett said...

Whitebeard that is an amazing website. If you have time drop Eli a note EliRabett2003 yahoo

Tenney Naumer said...

Do you think the tug is spinning around in circles?

Check out direction AND speed:

Tenney Naumer said...

They must be anchored:

Note that the lifeboats that were ripped off by waves are washing up.

David B. Benson said...

The Aiviq appears to have just drifted for some time after the Kulluk anchored and the other three tugs were connected.

Why the Aiviq did not remain on tow is unclear.

susan said...

That's sad about PEER. Any suggestions?

I have to admit I was not happy with their thank you, which seemed unclear that the donation would go to the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. I had hoped I was being silly.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately it looks like the Keystone pipeline is a done deal."

Of course it's a done deal.
It was a done deal a long time ago (last March) when Obama approved the southern leg of the pipeline.


Rattus Norvegicus said...

All I can say is don't trust the marine traffic websites. They are approximate at best.

David B. Benson said...

Maybe the Aiviq was setting out anchors for the Kulluk. That would explain the crazy looking path.

Rob Dekker said...

Eli, I think I'm missing something.

You mention :
Email leaks from Monnett were used to tie Shell, BOEM and BSEE up in court,..

But which "email leaks" are these ? Are they available anywhere ? And what do they tell ?

Also, you mention "PEER knew damn well what was going on and hid the cheese...." and "Those folk play inside baseball".

What is that all about ?
PEER was standing up for Monnett, big-time, and for while they were the ONLY source of information in this rediculous witch hunt against a scientist.

So what did PEER do wrong now, exactly ?

WhiteBeard said...

Yesterday, the 7th, at shortly after noon Alaska ST (4:00 EST) the Kulluk anchored inside the mouth of Kiliuda Bay with the “support vessels” Alert, Lauren Foss and Corbin Foss connected to the Kulluk and her anchor handler/tug/ice breaker, the Aiviq, disconnected. The Warrior, Ocean Wave, Perseverance, Nanuq and USCG Alex Haley are standing by in the area. Pictures of the later part of the tow are at:

The first scene in the video, ~8:30am local from the lighting, the Aiviq is in the foreground. The helo at the end is an Army Chinook from Ft Wainwright adjacent to Fairbanks


The time stamps in your link are UTC and local time is 9 hours later. (Really 10 hrs by the sun, but Alaska “time” is “daylight saving” in winter, and double DST in the summer to better sync with people in the rest of the US).

David B. Benson said...

Thorough news report about the grounding and recovery:

EliRabett said...

The leaked Emails are here.

EliRabett said...

The leaked Emails are here.

Anonymous said...

"Those folk play inside baseball"

Well, yes, that is actually their professed MO.

From PEER's own website, under "Accomplishments
What we are proud of"

"Many of the best things we do at PEER, we cannot talk about. Working behind the scenes, we have saved the careers of hundreds of conscientious public servants, often by talking them out of publicly blowing the whistle and convincing them to work through PEER instead to expose a problem."


J Bowers said...

Perhaps supplementary to the emails:

Denver Post: Tracking down Minerals Management Service's dysfunctional history of drilling oversight (2010)

"Revolving door with oil industry

In December 2006, Stang left MMS and set up Stang Consulting. From 2007 through 2009, Stang was a principal adviser to Shell Exploration and Development Co. — one of the major bidders on leases off the Alaska coast."

Rob Dekker said...

Thanks Eli, for that link to some of the leaked emails from 2005.

Your link to the leaked emails and the story by PEER show that Shell had much bigger plans for the Arctic than the Environmental Impact Study at that time called for. Plans that MMS was not disclosing, and the internal discussion within MMS was shielded from FOIA requests.

Interestingly enough, Monnett was not reprimanded for these emails from 2005.
Instead, Monnett was reprimanded for some emails sent in 2007 and 2008 :

Are you sure that Monnett leaked these 2005 emails ?
And if Monnett did, then why did they not show up in the IG report, or in the BOEM reprimand letter ?

Also, why does the IG spend their entire final report on Monnett's scientific paper, and an half-hearted attempt to question procedures on single-source contract acquisitions, and nothing about the emails that Monnett was reprimanded for eventually ?

And why the heck is Sen, Inhofe so interested in who started this investigation ?

This case is the most bizarre witch hunt on scientists I've ever seen, and I have the feeling that we are just barely scratching the surface on this story of political power play, fossil fuel interests, and bending the rules of engagement within the OUR Department of the Interior and the McCarty-style inquisitions by its Inspector General.

I'm predicting that at some point in time somebody will make a documentary movie about this crazy episode in US history.

EliRabett said...

Sorry Rob, Eli will have to go look for the others. Pending review it would seem that Monnett would be the logical one to have leeked the entire raft of emails.

As to why the IG kept on blathering, they had to, or admit that the whole thing was an effort to sideline Monnett for the leaks, and the leaked material showed that BOEM was in bed with Shell. This may turn into a real hunt though. There are lots of comments on the Email, but find links to the originals is not easy. Oh well another job for when Eli is retired.

Suppose you could ask PEER for them tho.

Anonymous said...

My question is where have the folks at "Union of Concerned Scientists" been during all this?

I thought they were supposed to be on the front lines "defending scientific integrity."

Or maybe that was just when a Republican administration was in office?

Somehow, I have a very hard time buying Grifo's entreaty for everyone to "wait to see what comes of the IG investigation".

If she could not see some time ago (indeed almost from the getgo) that the "investigation" was basically an "inquisition", she really has no business heading the scientific integrity program at UCS.