Environment: Shell’s Arctic drilling rig still grounded

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer First Class Sara Francis.

Coast Guard fly-overs show no damage or leaks

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A grounded Shell oil-drilling rig appears to be upright and stable along the coastline of an Alaska island, with no apparent signs of environmental contamination yet, according to the latest update from the response team.

No details have been announced about how Shell plans to recover the grounded rig, the latest in a string of incidents and problems involving the company’s Arctic drilling equipment.

The Kulluk was part of the Shell’s test drilling program last summer. According to the company, the vessel is loaded with about 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of other oil-based drilling and mechanical fluids.

The incident started Dec. 28, when the tow barge, the MV Aiviq, lost power while towing the Kulluk off the coast of Kodiak Island. Crews were able to restore power to one of the Aiviq’s four main engines, but that wasn’t enough to prevent the drilling rig from breaking free and running aground on the shore of Sitkalidak Island, about 250 miles south of Anchorage.

A team of six salvage experts boarded the grounded drilling unit Kulluk Thursday to conduct a structural assessment to be used to finalize salvage plans.

The six-member team was lowered to the Kulluk by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at about 10:30 this morning. The assessment lasted about three hours. The Coast Guard helicopter and crew also delivered a state-owned emergency towing system to the Kulluk, which will be used during salvage operations.

Smit Salvage is heading up salvage operations. Smit is a highly experienced salvage company that has assisted in hundreds of operations worldwide, including the Selendang Ayu salvage that took place off the coast of Western Unalaska in 2004. It also assisted in the Costa Concordia salvage off the coast of Italy in 2012.

The information gained from the on-site assessment will help evaluate the available options for freeing the rig from its grounded position.




The company has also been cited for deficiencies aboard another drilling ship, as detailed in this L.A. Times story. Shell also struggled with required tests of capping and containment equipment this summer, leading conservation advocates to call for a moratorium on Arctic offshore drilling until the equipment issues are fully resolved.


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