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Shell Oil should take responsibility for its problems

Carey RestinoThe Arctic Sounder
Curtis Smith is the spokesperson for Royal Dutch Shell's Alaska operations. Photo taken during a roundtable with Alaska Dispatch during the summer of 2012. Loren Holmes photo

Royal Dutch Shell, we know you've had a rough year. First, there were all those pesky permits that had to come through, and lots of issues about air quality and emissions and so forth. Then, your oil containment barge didn't quite come together the way you had hoped it would. That was unfortunate, especially when things came really unglued during testing, and your containment dome got all crumpled. That must have been tough.

Then there was the weather window issue -- those troublesome ice floes just wouldn't move out of the way. And then you had to wait to honor your agreement with the whalers to stay out of their way.

And Shell, we know it didn't make your day when you heard the Noble Discoverer floated dangerously close to shore in Unalaska, causing a lot of alarm. And we bet that little backfire incident later in the year had you popping Advil like crazy.

Of course, none of that held a candle to your suffering toward the end of the year. First, your efforts to get that 1966-log-carrier-turned-drill-rig, the Noble Discoverer, out of the state were held up by the Coast Guard, which said that despite all your retrofitting, the rig wasn't safe to travel down to Seattle for repairs. We're really sorry about that, Shell. It wasn't us.

And then, of course, there's the Kulluk. We wish we could have been able to do something about that storm that got in your way. We know Alaska can be awfully inconvenient at times. It's really too bad the way things played out with that ship running aground and all -- after all, you were just trying to get some much-needed repairs, right?

We just want to make sure you know how much we love you, Shell, for your $4.5 billion investment in developing oil and gas in our state. It's true, we won't see a dime of profits from it since no form of revenue sharing has been approved down in Washington. And yes, we will have to absorb the brunt of infrastructure costs when it comes to making sure our waters coastline will be safe from any oopsy-daisy spills by you fine folks. You may have noticed there isn't much up there yet -- not too many roads or ports or that sort of thing. But that's OK, we'll take care of it. Really, there is no need for any sort of regional advisory council or even an advisory board to deal with the impacts of climate change in our state. We're good. You just keep on investing money up here. We're sure somehow we will benefit. Someday maybe you'll even keep your ships in state for repairs in the winter instead of going down to Seattle to have the work done. And hey, maybe you'll hire a few Alaskans, too, even though I hear most of those folks on the Kulluk and the Aiviq sure weren't from around here. But you're going to change all that if you find oil up in those federal waters, right? You're going to take care of us. I'm sure.

So Shell, we have a little present for you. We know you were a little worried about that pesky tax bill when you decided to pull up anchor in the middle of winter, our stormiest time of year, and pull your drill rig through our waters. And maybe, like your head guy said last week in London, that $6 million property tax bill was just "chump change," and not a factor in your decision-making process. Just to show you how much we love you, we're going to remind you of a little law dating back to the mid-'70s. Guess what? You don't have to pay anything! It seems that since your drilling activity took place outside our waters, you don't owe the state anything! Isn't that great?

It's a little alarming that you didn't already know that this tax didn't apply to you, but we forgive you Shell. The greenies may say nasty things, like that you risked the lives of Alaskans as well as our pristine coastline just to dodge an insignificant tax bill that in fact didn't apply to you, but we don't believe that Shell. We love you.

See, Shell, we're really sorry about all those federal investigations being launched now, and those big ships you are going to have to bring in to move your drill rigs to Asia for repairs. And that $90 million cost you're reporting for that Kulluk incident, that's a real bummer.

We just want to remind you, Shell, that we didn't have anything to do with any of that. We're just happy to have you drilling up here, Shell, and we hope everything works out and you come back soon.

Carey Restino is the editor of Alaska Media LLC, which publishes The Arctic Sounder and Bristol Bay Times weekly newspapers. The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.