Skip to comments.Shell drilling rig grounds off Kodiak Island after towlines fail for 5th time
Posted on 01/01/2013 6:15:12 AM PST by thackney
Royal Dutch Shells Kulluk drilling rig, re-secured to two vessels with towlines early Monday, grounded around 9 p.m. in rocky water off the southern coast of Kodiak Island during a pounding Gulf of Alaska winter storm, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
A command team that includes Shell briefed reporters on the disaster with the Kulluk late Monday night.
It broke loose from a Shell-contracted ship, the Aiviq, around 4:40 p.m. Monday. Then around 8:15 p.m., with the grounding imminent, the second tow boat, a borrowed tug named the Alert, was directed to lose its tow line to avoid danger to the nine crew members aboard, according to the command team managing the crisis, which also includes the Coast Guard, the state of Alaska and contractors.
No one was hurt, the Coast Guard said.
The command team numbers about 250 people and most are now based at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown because the operation was running out of room at Shells headquarters in Alaska, the Midtown Frontier Building.
In a written statement issued around 6 a.m. Monday, the command team said the Kulluk was being held by towlines and was about 19 miles south of Kodiak.
When the Kulluk was cut loose from its final towline, it was four miles from land toward the south end of Kodiak Island, according to a later statement the command team sent out at around 8:30 p.m.
The grounding was the worst development yet in a crisis that began Thursday night when the $290 million, 266-foot-diameter Kulluk first lost a towline after the mechanical failure of a shackle used to connect it to the Aiviq.
Crews struggled against worsening weather and a mobile drilling unit that was unmanned with no propulsion...
(Excerpt) Read more at adn.com ...
A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Jayhawk helicopter crew delivers personnel to the conical drilling unit Kulluk, southeast of Kodiak on Monday. Response crews have been fighting severe weather in the Gulf of Alaska while working with the Kulluk and its tow vessel Aiviq.
Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg U.S. Coast Guard
They should have secured it until the weather calmed down and they had a weather window to move.
Rigs here in the north sea often wait weeks for the anchors to be pulled until there is a weather window to move.
That is basically they were trying to do. Remember they could not stay where they were as the ice pack was moving in.
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Drilling rig set to weather fierce storm in small Alaska port
Facing 63-mph winds and 28-foot seas on Monday, two tugboats were towing Shells Kulluk drilling rig to safe harbor to weather the fierce storm in the Gulf of Alaska.
The tugboats were taking advantage of a break in the turbulent weather to move the rig to Port Hobron, on the southeast side of Kodiak Island. Winds and waves are expected to surge Monday evening.
At the same time, the Coast Guard was preparing to use two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters to ferry technicians to the Kulluk to inspect towlines and ensure they are secure.
We have a brief weather window which provides the opportunity to get experts aboard the Kulluk to inspect the drilling unit and its tow set up, said Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander of the Coast Guards 17th District. They will provide key onsite information about towing issues or concerns and allow the unified command to develop contingency plans accordingly.
An opening in the weather also made it possible to connect tow lines early Monday morning, after at least two previous attempts failed Friday and Sunday.
Seas calmed down this morning and they were able to attach those tows, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley.
This operation started many weeks ago. A critical article below (biased against arctic drilling)
Shells Attempt To Get Drilling Equipment Out Of Arctic Before Winter Underscores Challenges In The Region
Nov 9, 2012
A season full of setbacks in Shells quest to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean isnt over yet. More than a week after preparatory drilling operations ended for the season, the company is struggling to get all of its equipment out of the Beaufort Sea as winter ice encroaches. As Popular Mechanics reports, as of Tuesday night, the companys Kulluk rig was still moored in the Beaufort Sea where temperatures have dropped below zero.
While the conditions dont pose any immediate danger, they underscore the immense challenge of operating in the severe and unpredictable Arctic. Due to the extremely harsh winter conditions and lack of a major port facility in the region, Shells rigs and support vessels must begin the 1,000-mile journey back to Dutch Harbor before the route becomes too ice-choked to traverse. As the Popular Mechanics reporter on board the rig describes, just unmooring the Kulluk has proven to be a logistical nightmare:
First, there were 83 men on board, a number that was supposed to go down to just 17 for the trip south. By Alaska standards, the weather remained stable, yet flights between the rig and the companys facilities on land at Prudhoe Bay were delayed for days at a time. Shell had contracted with PHI, Inc., a helicopter services company that is ubiquitous in the Gulf of Mexico. But the companys Sikorsky S-92 helicopters had not been prepared with de-icing equipment, and the pilots I spoke with lacked experience flying on the North Slope.
A second issue concerned the Aiviq tugs fuel reserves.
Shell had committed to laying a containment boom out on the ocean surface during vessel-to-vessel refueling, but the seas had been too rough to do that. The tug needed to refuel before starting to haul the Kulluk.
Finally, the Kulluk was required to offload its wastewater to another vessel for eventual disposal on land, but those operations also proved vulnerable to disruption by rough seas.
The latest challenges add to a long list of hurdles Shell has faced in a drilling season plagued with technical failures, struggles with Mother Nature, and an array of voices expressing serious concern about our lack of preparedness to operate in the region. Heres a quick review:
In February, an independent report issued by the Government Accountability Office identified a slew of environmental, logistical, and technical challenges associated with Arctic offshore drilling and concluded Shells dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region.
In April, insurance giant Lloyds of London issued a report on Arctic offshore drilling, warning that responding to an oil spill in a region that is highly sensitive to damage would present multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk.
German bank WestLB announced it would not provide financing to any offshore oil or gas drilling in the Arctic, saying the risks and costs are simply too high.
In July, Shell briefly lost control of its Noble Discoverer rig, which came dangerously close to running aground in Dutch Harbor.
In September, a British parliamentary committee called for a halt to drilling in the Arctic Ocean until necessary steps are taken to protect the region from the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill.
Total SA, the fourth largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world, became the first major oil producer to admit that offshore drilling in Arctic waters is a risky idea, saying such operations could be a disaster and warning other companies against drilling in the region.
After repeatedly failing to receive Coast Guard approval for its containment barge, a critical piece of oil spill response equipment, Shell was forced to postpone exploratory drilling operations until 2013 and settle instead for only drilling two preparatory wells.
Then just one day after beginning its long-awaited preparatory drilling operations, Shell suspended drilling due to a massive ice pack covering approximately 360 square miles drifting toward the site.
I would have thought they would have left earlier. I work for Statoil and we were going to drill a well there too. As I understand, you can only drill in the summer for a few months. Wild weather we get here in Norway, but no floating ice. We have been waiting two weeks now to pull anchors on a rig. Finally got a weather window.
Ahhh the good old days of North Sea Saturation diving with Taylor Diving Co. ‘70’s and 80’s a golden era of diving.
They got in exactly one day of drilling this season before they left. Many things went wrong including multiple delays in permits.
Drifting sea ice halts Shell’s Arctic drilling
Royal Dutch Shell halted drilling in the Chukchi Sea on Monday — one day after it began — because of sea ice moving toward the company’s drill ship off Alaska.
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Shell learning about the Arctic the hard way
Six years and about $5 billion into its quest for Arctic oil, Shell still struggles to overcome the obstacles of this forbidding frontier, where the cold locks up machines and blankets of fog sometime keep planes out of the sky for days at a time.
Despite exhaustive planning and simulation of the work to come, problems started even before Shell’s drilling units arrived. First, stubborn sea ice clung to Alaska’s shores, preventing Shell’s ships from cruising to their shallow-water drill sites. Then, the Discoverer dragged its anchors and briefly floated out of control near Dutch Harbor. Later, Shell confessed it couldn’t satisfy some terms of an air-pollution permit governing the Discoverer. And finally, after months of construction delays, the company’s first-of-its-kind oil spill containment barge was damaged during certification tests.
Although oil companies punched nearly three dozen wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas between 1982 and 1997, Shell’s latest Arctic venture is the first bid to find crude underneath these waters in decades and the first since the Gulf oil spill focused new scrutiny on the safety of offshore drilling.
In its return to the Arctic, Shell navigated around such obstacles as low-hanging fog and floating ice while managing more than two dozen ships and the logistics of deploying, feeding and boarding hundreds of workers at a time.
Just days after Shell left its half-finished Chukchi and Beaufort Sea wells for the winter, the company is preparing to make changes because of the lessons it learned this summer.
What I want to know is the means by which the fuel day tanks of the M/V Aiviq were sabotaged as water, dirt, and bacteria are primarily removed by centrifuges; and, filters on each engine also block sediment, rust scale from piping and the aforementioned contaminants prior to entering an engine.
Receiving fuel aboard is accompanied by checks of fuel quality for water, using a color change paste on sounding gear during loading. Fuel is transferred thru a bulk filtration system or a centrifuge to a “day tank” from which the ship’s engines draw from. In rough seas the centrifuge draws on the day tank to purge condensation collecting near the bottom baffles.
Engines have individual filtration ahead of entering the injection system, and in practice the vagaries of pipe routing usually results in one engine to lose fuel pressure>power first as a heads up for the rest. My particular ship tended to lose a generator first if rough seas stirred up contaminants off the tank bottom or upper sides of the tank walls where condensation promotes bacteria.
As the day tanks are protected from collision damage to the outer hull by secondary tanks, sudden water entry is unlikely. For 4 mains to suddenly suffer fuel issues forcing the vessel adrift is beyond credulity.
Weather on scene has been reported as 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas.
MV Aiviq Breaks Down in Alaska While Towing Shells Arctic Drilling Rig
DECEMBER 28, 2012
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Update from USCG on the disabled Aiviq and Shells Kulluk drilling unit near Kodiak, Alaska. At this point it seems that the Aiviqs engines cut out as the result of a bad batch of fuel.
Coast Guard: Crews Battle Fierce Storm While Assisting Disabled Aiviq and Kulluk
DECEMBER 29, 2012
Coast Guard crews continue to battle 20-30 foot seas and 30-40 knot winds while providing assistance to the crews of the Kulluk and its three support vessels...
Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews from Air Station Kodiak delivered engine parts and technicians to the crew of the support vessel Aiviq, in 30 mph winds and 20-foot seas last night, so they could make repairs to the ships three damaged engines. These repairs have enabled Aiviq to hold position with Kulluk to keep both vessels from drifting closer to shoal waters near Kodiak.
The Alex Haley arrived at the Aiviqs location early Friday and successfully delivered a towline to the Aiviq which was still connected to Kulluk in strengthening 40 mph winds and building 35-foot seas at approximately 4:30 a.m. The Alex Haley was able to establish a tandem tow of Aiviq and Kulluk, preventing further drift of the disabled vessels towards shoal water. The heavy seas, strong winds, and sheer mass of both Aiviq and Kulluk created enormous challenges for Alex Haley to establish and maintain the tow. At approximately 6:30 a.m. the crew of the Alex Haley reported that the towline had parted and become entangled in the ships port propeller. The command directed the ship to return to Kodiak in order to make repairs. The tow line between Alex Haley and Aiviq parted due to the heavy strain created by the wind, seas, and displacement of Aiviq and Kulluk, however the effort by Alex Haley slowed the drift towards shoal water and bought extremely valuable time to enable further rescue options.
...Additionally, Royal Dutch Shell requested delivery of parts to the Aiviq so they could make repairs to their engines. Aiviqs engine failures were attributed to some poor quality fuel that had been isolated. Repairing Aiviqs engines became the priority because Aiviq is the only vessel available on scene capable of towing Kulluk. The tug Alert from Prince William Sound is also capable to towing the Kulluk and will arrive on scene mid-day on Sunday.
Factoring weather is bad enough, but "regulatory delays" is a critical component of the cost overrun for Shell.
Shell can successfully drill for oil in the Arctic. They have no desire to leave behind a mess - they will be here for many years.
Getting permits is a wild card that just can't be factored into tight time lines, since they are burdened with subjective approval.