Do global energy companies have sufficient safety protocols in place to deal with the challenges of Arctic projects?
The answer, according to hundreds of votes cast in a recent Hydrocarbon Processing industry poll, is an old cliché: it depends.
Nearly half (48%) of readers surveyed believe practices vary enough throughout the industry that a single standard has not been adopted, making it dependent on the company in question. Another 28% said they believed the industry does have sufficient safety protocols, while 25% said it does not.
The topic became newsworthy after a series of recent incidents involving Shell. That company, for its part, is postponing its planned summer drilling in the Arctic Ocean after a troubled 2012 drilling season marred by bad weather, mechanical failures and regulatory challenges.
Shell had been widely expected to push back its contentious, multi-billion-dollar Arctic program after it announced that its rigs needed to be repaired and analysts said replacements would be hard to find.
We've made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term program that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way, said Shell president Marvin Odum.
The Kulluk, a drilling ship owned by Shell and operated by Noble Corp., ran aground on an uninhabited island about 300 miles southwest of Anchorage on Jan. 1 after ships towing it to Seattle for the winter lost control of the rig during a storm. It suffered damage to the hull and electrical systems.
The Noble Discoverer drill ship, which Shell was leasing, had an engine fire in December when it was on its way to Seward, Alaska, prompting a US Coast Guard inspection. It will need to have work done on its propulsion system in dry dock as well, according to the company.
Investors and government officials are closely watching Shell's Arctic plans. The company has spent nearly $5 billion on permits, personnel and equipment over the past six years to assure regulators and native Alaskans that the first drilling in the Arctic Ocean in more than a decade would be safe and environmentally benign.
The Arctic drilling controversy comes just as BP, Transocean and Halliburton are being challenged over their roles in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
To see more details on this poll as well as access prior Hydrocarbon Processing poll results, click here.
(Editors note: Polls are where we at Hydrocarbon Processing gather industry sentiment on significant issues of the day. Visit the HP home page to weigh in on our latest poll regarding the Deepwater Horizon trial.)
-- Additional reporting by Dow Jones Newswires