“Unified Command confirms Kulluk is safely anchored,” trumpets the most recent update from the Shell-led team responsible for towing the company’s errant drilling rig back to safe harbor. One can imagine the movie scene running through the mind of the Shell VP in charge on-scene: He steps up to a cluster of microphones in a hushed room packed with cameras; a pause for effect; “The Kulluk is safe”; pandemonium. A ticker tape parade? Sure, why not. In reality, of course, Shell deserves all of the praise one would afford to a child who just finished mopping up a puddle of his own pee. Nice work, kid. You’re a real star.

On Monday, the Kulluk completed its meandering path [PDF] back to safety meaning that, for the first time this year, Shell has no vehicles in distress in the Arctic — an area where, later this year, it hopes to begin poking holes in the sea floor to extract oil.

At long last, however, the government is expressing some skepticism about the company’s competence in doing so. From the Times:

The Interior Department on Tuesday opened an urgent review of Arctic offshore drilling operations after a series of blunders and accidents involving Shell Oil’s drill ships and support equipment, culminating in the grounding of one of its drilling vessels last week off the coast of Alaska.

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Officials said the new assessment by federal regulators could halt or scale back Shell’s program to open Alaska’s Arctic waters to oil exploration, a $4.5 billion effort that has been plagued by equipment failures, legal delays, mismanagement and bad weather.

It’s actually a little strange that the Kulluk is the straw that broke this camel’s back. Shell’s 2012 Parade of Ineptitude™ was merely book-ended by the rig’s failed bid for freedom. (Even the Kulluk is skeptical about working with Shell on Arctic drilling.) The most alarming event should probably have been the complete failure of Shell’s spill containment dome, but that barely raised eyebrows in 2012, a year in which an incumbent president sought reelection despite critique that he wasn’t friendly enough to oil exploration.

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Before you get too giddy about the government pulling the plug on Shell, know that it continues to be bullish on Arctic extraction. From The Hill:

Interior said the review of 2012 Arctic operations will “help inform future permitting processes in the region.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in a statement, said the Obama administration is committed to energy exploration in “frontier” regions like the Arctic, but also said careful oversight is needed.

“Exploration allows us to better comprehend the true scope of our resources in the Arctic and to more fully understand the nature of the risks and benefits of development in this region, but we also recognize that the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment demand an even higher level of scrutiny,” he said.

Good to hear that Interior is demanding an even higher level of scrutiny only after Shell has begun digging holes and losing boats.

Not that the company is worried. From the Times:

Marvin E. Odum, president of Shell Oil, said of the government assessment: “It’s not a concern to me. I welcome this kind of high-level review. It’s important that both we and the Department of Interior take a look at the 2012 season.”

Which is what people say in the movies right before their nefarious deeds are revealed.

The Kulluk is towed back to servitude.

KullukResponseThe Kulluk is towed back to servitude.