Skip to comments.Kulluk drilling rig accident stokes fresh fears on Arctic drilling
Posted on 01/02/2013 5:08:12 AM PST by thackney
The grounding of Shells Kulluk drilling rig amid a fierce storm in the Gulf of Alaska raised the specter of a fuel spill in the region and provided fresh fodder to drilling foes who insist Arctic oil exploration is too risky to allow.
The episode also cast doubt on whether Shell Oil Co. will be able to resume its hunt for Arctic oil this year.
The 29-year-old Kulluk conical drilling unit was unmanned when it plowed into rocks on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island Monday night in Alaska, and there were no major injuries. But Coast Guard and Shell officials were still battling stormy seas Tuesday to assess the full extent of environmental damage and figure out a plan for recovering the stranded rig.
Although responders removed some fuel from the ship before an evacuation Saturday, about 143,000 gallons of ultra-low sulfur diesel and 12,000 gallons of lubrication oil and hydraulic fluid are estimated to remain on board the vessel, mostly locked in the center of the double-hulled rig.
Coast Guard surveillance flights showed no signs of a spill and revealed the Kulluk to be upright, rocking with a slow motion, said Shell Alaska Operations Manager Sean Churchfield.
It wasnt clear whether the vessel can be salvaged or how it will weather the massive Gulf of Alaska storm that brought four-story seas and 70-mph winds to the area.
The Kulluk is a pretty sturdy vessel. It just remains to be seen how long it is on the shoreline and how long the weather persists, said Susan Childs, venture integrator for Shell Alaska. We hope to ultimately recover the Kulluk with minimal or no damage to the environment.
Coast Guard officials stressed that the first priority is responding to any spill and safely salvaging the Kulluk, but said an investigation will be conducted into the incident. Shell also pledged its own inquiry.
Responders said their main focus Wednesday will be getting experts on the Kulluk to assess its integrity and how it can be salvaged, after two attempts Tuesday were foiled by high winds and waves.
More than 500 people are involved in the effort, which Steve Russell of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said was one of the largest marine response efforts off Alaska coast in recent memory.
Mehler repeatedly highlighted the turbulent environment during a brief news conference Tuesday afternoon, but said the response was guided by previous drills and planning for worst-case scenarios. And in the days before the Kulluk grounded, officials consulted Naval architects to plan for that outcome.
We are operating in a marine environment in the winters of Alaska, which are extremely challenging conditions, Mehler said. But, he noted, the rescue operation has been helped by the nearby Coast Guard station in Kodiak.
When problems began on Thursday, Shell was towing the Kulluk south to a Seattle shipyard for maintenance, roughly two months after using the drilling rig to bore the first half of an exploratory oil well in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska.
The Shell-chartered Aiviq first lost its tow line to the rig and then its four engines malfunctioned. At least four subsequent bids to keep tow lines tethered to the Kulluk failed, most recently when the Aiviq separated from the vessel Monday night, leaving just one powerful tugboat, the Alert, linked to the rig.
At that point, grounding appeared inevitable so the Alert crew focused on steering the Kulluk to an area where it would have the least amount of environmental effects, the Coast Guard said.
The Alert and Aiviq had been taking advantage of an opening in the turbulent weather to try and pull the Kulluk to Port Hobron to ride out the storm.
The Kulluk now sits beached about .27 nautical miles from the northern shoreline of Ocean Bay in water depths of about 32 to 48 feet, near land owned by the Old Harbor Native Corp. The island itself is uninhabited, and the nearest town is Old Harbor, on the opposite side of Kodiak Island.
This is just the latest mishap in Shells $5 billion Arctic drilling program, and it is sure to spark new scrutiny of the companys next steps as well as the dangers of searching for crude in the cold, forbidding region.
Shell is forging a new generation of Arctic drilling, and other companies with leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas are waiting in the wings.
Other high-profile mishaps included the drifting of Shells contracted drillship Noble Discoverer near Dutch Harbor, Alaska last summer. Later, Shells first-of-its-kind spill containment barge was damaged during certification tests. Finally, weeks after drilling was done for the year, a fire broke out on the Discoverers rig stack, and safety and pollution-control system deficiencies were discovered on the ship in November.
Mike LeVine, Pacific senior counsel with the conservation group Oceana, said the Kulluks grounding should be a wakeup call for regulators to reconsider allowing industrial drilling in the Arctic ocean.
Shell has not been able to conduct any phase of its operations without substantial problems, he said. From construction of its response barge to complying with air and water protections to transit, Shells season has been plagued with problems, missteps, and near disasters.
Other environmentalists said the incident raises questions about how Shell and federal regulators can ensure the safety of Arctic oil development if they cant prevent an accident like this when drilling isnt even occurring.
In a demonstration of the power of Alaskas fierce weather and seas, tugboats were unable to prevent Shells massive, $290 million Beaufort Sea drilling rig from grounding near Kodiak Island, Epstein said. While its fortunate there was no loss of life, the incident proves that Shell and its contractors are no match for Alaskas weather and sea conditions, either during drilling operations or during transit.
While the biggest natural foe for drilling in the Arctic Ocean is ice, high seas and winds are common in Pacific waters west of Alaska, particularly during winter months.
Shells Churchfield told reporters that the company had all necessary approvals before sending the Aiviq and Kulluk on their trek across the Gulf of Alaska on Dec. 21.
Shell officials also stressed that the incident didnt involve drilling and emphasized that there no chance of a crude oil spill.
We quickly mobilized experts to respond to this situation, said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith. And we can confidently say that the Shell emergency response assets and contingencies that were deployed over the last four days represent the best available in the world.
Even if Shell can rescue the grounded rig, it is not clear it could be repaired in time for planned drilling this summer, or that Shell would be able to secure federal permits needed to resume the work. After buying the Kulluk for an undisclosed sum, Shell sunk some $300 million into renovations. It is unlikely that Shell could find a replacement, if needed, in time to launch drilling with it this summer.
Shell drilled the first half of two wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas last year and plans to finish them and others once ice clears this summer.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which vets offshore drilling applications, said in a statement that all equipment Shell plans to use must first satisfy rigorous inspection and testing standards.
Any approved drilling activities will be held to the highest safety and environmental standards, the agency said.
It is the Coast Guards responsibility to certify and inspect drilling units and other vessels. It also regulates the design, manning and navigation of those rigs in transit. The Coast Guard did not approve Shells decision to send the Kulluk and Aiviq southeast from Dutch Harbor.
Search and rescue missions are generally funded by taxpayer dollars, but this instance is being approached as if it were an oil spill under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, where a responsible party pays for the operation. Mehler said Shell has stepped up to pay response costs.
Shell drilling rig grounds off Kodiak Island after towlines fail for 5th time http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2973882/posts
Coast Guard overflight video at:
Harsh weather stymies salvage crews at Shell drill rig
With winds reported at up to 60 miles an hour and Gulf of Alaska seas of up to 35 feet, responders were unable to keep the ship from grounding, said Coast Guard Commander Shane Montoya, the leader of the incident command team.
We are now entering into the salvage and possible spill-response phase of this event, Montoya told a news conference late on Monday night in Anchorage.
For more information, visit www.KullukResponse.com.
The rig is in stormy water because in the beginning, it was not allowed on land.
If true ..
Drill on dry land.
(No, I haven't read the article)
Too many miles from land for horizontal reach drilling from land.
I’d ask Shell why they elected to move the rig with a storm predicted...
They have been moving it for about 2 months. It is a long ways from the drilling location in the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska to an safe harbor for winter maintenance.
They've gone there, because the Government has closed off areas that are easier to drill in. ANWAR, shallow water in the Gulf, coastal drilling on the east and west coasts are among the areas closed off, not counting the land in the lower 48.
So libtards complaining, look in the darn mirror.
If you believe regulation and closed areas are the only reasons we drill for oil anywhere we can, you are quite mistaken.
We drill for oil anywhere it is profitable to do so. We were drilling offshore in 1887. The first well drilled out of sight of land was in 1947.
National Ocean Industries Association
“Id ask Shell why they elected to move the rig with a storm predicted...”
And this time of year in Alaska. But not my area of expertise; assume they knew what they were doing.
They started this trip back in November.
They were allowed to drill up to October 31st. They were in the Beaufort Sea at that point.
They have been moving this rig southward ever since. They have had a lot of problems including having the tow lines break 5 different times.
They have been trying to leave the ice area since the first week of November. They did not start a trip in the Arctic on Dec 21st. They have not ended the original trip to harbor for winter maintenance yet.
Shell Arctic season ends; top holes drilled at Burger, Sivulliq
Week of November 04, 2012
They stopped drilling Oct 31st in the Beaufort Sea North of Alaska. They have been moving the rig to a southern harbor for winter maintenance ever since.
As sensitive as this issue is and with as many eyes as are on it, you know a single gallon of oil in the water will mean another decade of off limits for the place.
Sounds like the “Greens” may have some saboteurs embedded in the industry, creating havoc to try to get it shut down.
Why is it profitable in those difficult areas compared to other areas? The cheaper areas were closed off.
And just think ? 500 - 1000 yards away on shore it would have been safer, more easy to clean up any spills and economically cheaper to explore and drill for oil... as John Belushi used to say “ BUT NOOOOOOOOOOOOO “ the greenies had to have it their way.