Fire Crews Respond to Engine Explosion on Shell Drill Rig

Friday, November 16 2012

(Alexandra Gutierrez/KUCB)

A contained explosion aboard Shell’s Noble Discoverer drill rig sent fire crews in Unalaska scrambling this morning. Ports Director Peggy McLaughlin says she felt the blast from the harbor office, which is about 200 yards away.

“It was almost like a backfire, a ginormous [sic] backfire is what I would equate it to, but because of the size of the vessel, it was pretty big. And when we looked out we could actually see the smoke coming out of the top of the landing pad there and so it was one of those, ‘we need to make a call and make sure it doesn’t get out of control.’”

McLaughlin says stack fires are common aboard vessels, but can get out of control. She says this one didn’t and that the Noble Discoverer’s crew responded quickly. 

“When we finally did get ahold of them on the radio, they did request shore assistance, so they weren’t sure where it was leading."

McLaughlin later clarified that the vessel didn’t ask for help first, but confirmed that they wanted the help that was already on the way when asked. The Ports Department made the initial call to emergency responders.

By the time local emergency responders reached the vessel, the fire had been suppressed. Since the Noble Discoverer was not tied up at the dock, emergency responders didn’t board.

Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith said in an email those emergency responders weren’t necessary in the first place and that Shell did not call for them. He adds: “There was a backfire in one of the stacks on the Discoverer. There was a small, residual flame in the stack that was put out almost immediately by crew members. The Discoverer was never in danger and there are no injuries."

There also haven’t been any reports of damage to the vessel. Unalaska fire chief Abner Hoage says the crew told him the engine that backfired had been acting up for a couple of days.

“It’s completely contained and under control, and they advised that they don’t need any shoreside assistance, so we’re going to go back home," says Hoage.

The Noble Discoverer just returned from the Chukchi Sea, where it had been drilling topholes as part of Shell's Arctic drilling program. 

Tisk on Sunday, November 18 2012:

I happen to know for a fact that the ship is very un-safe.
I'm glad nobody was injured, but saddened that shell refuses to admit that the vessel is a death trap.

Good luck to the crew, they will need it.

A resident for a long time on Friday, November 16 2012:

It is amazing how much money Shell Oil has brought to this community but people don't appreciate that. I think people of this community should know all that Shell does and how safety orientated they are before taking something like this and trying to make Shell look bad. Shell spends lots of money to bring all their garbage back here and have it taken to a landfill down south but do you see the fishing boats doing that? Nope, they throw it overboard out there!

Shelly on Friday, November 16 2012:

"Curtis Smith said in an email those emergency responders weren’t necessary in the first place and that Shell did not call for them." Actually I don't believe Smith is necesary and Unalaska doesn't need him.

Stella on Friday, November 16 2012:

ah Curtis! the master of understatement.

Just Curious on Friday, November 16 2012:

So that was a "controlled" explosion?
Glad no one was hurt.

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