The drill ship in the background is the Noble Discoverer, which recently failed a Coast Guard inspection of its oil-water separator in Hawaii.
The drill ship in the background is the Noble Discoverer, whose pollution control equipment recently failed in Hawaii. Jiri Rezac/Greenpeace

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Just in case you thought that Shell's Arctic drilling fleet was immune to causing problems in local waters, check out this news from VICE: One of Shell's Arctic drilling rigs due in Puget Sound this month failed a Coast Guard inspection of some of its pollution control equipment in April.

The vessel in question is the Noble Discoverer, whose operators pleaded guilty to eight felonies after Shell's last drilling season in the Arctic. One of the problems aboard the ship the last time around was its oil-water separator (OWS). The OWS is supposed to prevent oil-contaminated water from being dumped overboard, but the Noble Discoverer used an impromptu, uncertified pollution system instead, dumped stuff overboard anyway, and hid it from the Coast Guard. The piece of equipment that failed in Hawaii? The OWS.

From VICE's Matt Smith:

The Coast Guard held the Noble Discoverer in Honolulu for a day until engineers could repair the device that separates oil from the water in the ship's bilges, said Lt. Scott Carr, a spokesman for the service. The April 23 inspection occurred less than five months after vessel owner Noble Drilling pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges and paid $12.2 million in fines, partly for dumping oily water overboard when the same machine didn't work.

"They attempted to fix it. They couldn't get it fixed," Carr told VICE News. "They couldn't get it operating, and they were given a detention hold. Then they got the part, got it fixed, and got it out the door."

Noble Drilling had to pay some $12.2 million in fines and community service over the issues it had with its equipment (and disclosing those issues) back in 2012. Now, as a result of the litigation, Noble has to abide by a compliance plan and is on probation.

"It's obviously concerning to hear that when they came into US waters off the coast of Hawaii, one of the deficiencies that the Coast Guard identified was with the oil-water separator, because the oil-water separator is a critical piece of pollution control equipment," Kevin Feldis, first assistant United States attorney in Alaska, told The Stranger.

The first time Noble got in trouble for its oil-water separator, it was "circumventing it through this blue-barrel jerry-rigged system," Feldis added. "It's concerning to hear that's an area where they're still having any difficulties or challenges."

No decisions have been made as to whether Noble violated its compliance plan or probation, according to Feldis. Those details are being reviewed.

Regardless, the Noble Discoverer is now on its way to Everett, where the Coast Guard expects it will arrive in mid-May. The vessel will trade out some of its older drilling mud for fresher stuff, and then keep working in Everett or head to Terminal 5, according to John Dwyer, chief of the marine inspection division of the Coast Guard in Seattle.

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That, of course, depends on what the Port of Seattle decides to do about letting Arctic drilling rigs into Terminal 5 now that the city says keeping Arctic drilling equipment in that space violates the land use permit. The Polar Pioneer, Shell's other drilling rig, is currently in Port Angeles, but it's due in Seattle mid-May as well, according to Dwyer.

But will Shell be able to get the work it needs done if its rigs end up avoiding Seattle? "There's other facilities in different parts of Puget Sound that could likely accomodate the work," Dwyer said. Still, Dwyer added, "my belief is that [Terminal 5 is] the most efficient terminal for them to work at—that's how they established the terminal they were going to use."

As far as activists are concerned, it doesn't matter where the rigs end up in Puget Sound. They're still planning a full festival of resistance May 16 through 18. And even if Shell tries to place parts of the fleet in different ports, "they're still going to face pressure no matter what," 350 Seattle organizer Emily Johnston said.

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