Shell's Kulluk Drill Rig Aground Near Kodiak
Tuesday, January 01 2013
After days of failed rescue efforts, Shell’s Kulluk drill rig has run aground near Kodiak Island. The conical rig hit bottom in shallow offshore waters Monday night around 9pm. So far there are no reports of an oil spill, although the vessel is carrying 140,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of other lubricants. Susan Childs, the incident commander and Shell’s venture support integrator, told reporters at a press conference Monday night that the vessel’s tanks are isolated in the interior of the vessel and encased in heavy steel.
“When the weather subsides and it is safe to do so, we will dispatch crews to the location and begin a complete assessment of the Kulluk. We hope to ultimately recover the Kulluk with minimal or no damage to the environment," Childs says.
The Coast Guard is currently attempting to conduct overflights of the grounded rig to determine its condition and options for salvage, but extreme weather conditions in the area have kept oil spill response crews from making it to the site.
The Kulluk's troubles started on Thursday while it was being towed from Unalaska to Seattle. The line connecting the rig to the 360-foot icebreaking tug Aiviq failed. The Aiviq then temporarily lost power in all four of its engines. The Kulluk doesn’t have its own propulsion system and multiple efforts to restore the tow with various tugs over the following days were unsuccessful.
On Monday afternoon, two tugs – the Aiviq and the Alert – had the rig under tow and were moving towards safe harbor when the towline to the Aiviq parted in 70 mile per hour winds and 40-foot seas. For the safety of the Alert’s crew, the tug released the Kulluk’s tow around 8pm. The crew of the Kulluk had already been evacuated on Saturday.
The rig is currently on a mixed gravel-and-sand bottom in 30 to 40 feet of water off the coast of Sitkalidak Island. The island is uninhabited, but is considered critical habitat for several marine species, including the endangered Southwest sea otter, and Steller sea lions.
Environmental groups have been quick to criticize the grounding, saying it shows that Shell isn’t prepared to drill in the Arctic. In a statement, Michael Levine of the ocean conservation group Oceana condemned the accident as just the latest in a series of missteps by the oil giant.
“We are fortunate that this latest incident happened close to the Coast Guard station in Kodiak. If this had happened in the Arctic Ocean, Shell could have been on its own, 1,000 miles from the help it needed."
Shell has promised a full internal investigation of the incident. The Coast Guard will also conduct its own investigation. Initial reports from the Coast Guard suggested contaminated fuel was responsible for the engine failure aboard the Aiviq, but that fuel was isolated and the Aiviq is currently running under its own power. Shell's spokesperson Curtis Smith says reports of contaminated fuel are purely speculative at this point.
Weather conditions in the area around Sitkalidak Island are currently 60 mile per hour winds and 30 foot seas, but are expected to subside this afternoon.
This is a developing story, please check back for updates.