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Investigation sought on Shell Oil’s Arctic snafus

Shell Oil's Arctic drill rig, Kulluk, stranded near Kodiak Island, Alaska

The stranded Kulluk. Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard.

Salvage of stranded drill set to begin

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even as salvage workers prepare to tow Shell’s stranded Arctic drilling rig, the Kulluk, away from where it’s stranded on the shore of an Alaskan island, progressive members of Congress say they want to know how the accident happened.

The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition last week called on the Department of the Interior and United States Coast Guard to conduct a joint investigation into the recent grounding of the drilling rig and related incidents. 

The Kulluk, a 29-year-old rig containing an estimated 143,000 gallons of ultra-low sulfur diesel and 12,000 gallons of lubrication oil and hydraulic fluid, ran aground Monday night after breaking free from tugboats leading it to Seattle for maintenance.

Late last year, Shell was given a green light by Interior to begin drilling in Beaufort and Chuckchi seas.  The Kulluk previously operated in the Beaufort Sea.

Members of the coalition released the following statement:

“The recent grounding of Shell’s Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic.  This is the latest in a series of alarming blunders, including the near grounding of another of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor and the failure of its blowout containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, in lake-like conditions. SEEC Members believe these serious incidents warrant thorough investigation.”

The salvage crews Saturday planned to hook a main tow line to the Kulluk to test capabilities in preparation for recovery operations of the drilling unit, with the final towing plans dependent on weather and tides.

Part of the plan involves deploying absorbent boom as a precautionary measure along the shores of Kodiak Island, with a focus on protection salmon streams connecting to Ocean Bay.

The response team has developed a wildlife protection plan to be used in the event that wildlife in the area is impacted during the recovery. They have activated International Bird Rescue to assist in bird rescue programs should their expertise be required. In addition, Protected Species Observers are being deployed on-scene.

The Kulluk remains upright and stable with no reports of sheen in the vicinity. Salvage teams conducted an additional survey confirming all fuel tanks remain intact. Throughout all operations the safety of the responders will continue to be the top priority.

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