Shell and its allies cannot be trusted to drill in the Arctic. Their reputation took another hammering last night when Noble Drilling, Shell’s sub-contractor, plead guilty to a staggering eight felony charges relating to environmental and safety violations on board the vessels Noble Discoverer and Kulluk (which it operated on behalf of Shell) in the Alaskan Arctic in 2012. Noble will pay a $12.2m fine, has been placed on probation for four years and must upgrade all of its plans to meet safety and environmental protection requirements.

This really is bad news for Shell as it gears up for another crack at the Arctic next summer. Pretty much everything that could go wrong in 2012 did go wrong, and this is yet more evidence that Shell is simply not up to the challenge of operating in the far north.

The Alaskan courts called them “serious offences” and described a litany of malfunctions, hazards, misdeeds and deceptions from when the Noble Discoverer left New Zealand to the end of its drilling season. These caused “engine shutdowns, equipment failures and unsafe conditions,” many of which were not even reported to the US Coast Guard. Indeed, Noble “actively took steps to conceal its use of illegal [systems]”, and “knowingly made false entries” concealing problems from the authorities.

Noble corp also admitted to negligently discharging bilge water from the Discoverer. Polluted wastewater accumulated in the engine room and was thrown overboard using “a makeshift barrel and pump system.”  The company failed to process the bilge water through required pollution prevention equipment resulting in a greasy sheen in Broad Bay, Unalaska in July 2012.

Shell said it was “disappointed” with Noble, which claimed it had “truly learned from these mistakes.” Both companies stressed the Noble Discoverer has been completely upgraded, while the Kulluk was scrapped. Instead, Shell replaced it with a rig called the Polar Pioneer, owned and operated by Transocean, the company that owned the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon. That Shell would even consider hiring either company to help it drill in the Arctic next summer is beyond belief.

The fact that Noble accepted such a serious deal rather than go to court and risk further charges indicated just how serious the offences were. By way of comparison, BP only faced misdemeanour charges for major onshore spills on Alaskan’s North Slope. The company, and by association Shell itself, obviously wanted this story done and dusted as soon as possible and long before next year’s drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

The nerve of these people really is quite remarkable. In Noble Drilling’s PR on the news it refers to “a successful drilling season in offshore Alaska in 2012.”  If a successful drilling season results in 8 felony charges, Lord knows what an unsuccessful one would look like.

The good folk in Greenpeace HQ are working as hard as we can to make sure this gets noticed. And everyone who cares about the Arctic can help - please share the news and help stop Shell drilling for oil in the Arctic:

BREAKING: Shell’s Arctic oil drillers pleaded: GUILTY to ‘serious offences’ in Alaskan Arctic: #SaveTheArctic

This is a developing story so stay tuned for updates. You can follow us on twitter with @SaveTheArctic