Shell's Kulluk Drill Rig Aground Near Kodiak

Tuesday, January 01 2013

Kulluk under tow on Sunday/Credit: Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Usher

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.

Shirley Marquardt on Thursday, January 03 2013:

Just to clear up any misunderstanding, I am not the "Shirley M." who posted above. I don't know who is.
Shirley Marquardt

gohomeshell on Wednesday, January 02 2013: the city is rethinking the open arms policy they have towards Shell? which side of the fence are you really on Shirley?

TripleU on Wednesday, January 02 2013:

Oh come on Shirley - our country and this island is totally Drunk on the use of Oil - we need it and got to have it - Just the 3 large seafood processors here use over 5 million gallons a year - and those processors are the only reason we have a community. We all want oil - but think an oil spill is such a terrible disaster - no human or machine is perfect - accidents will happen - and no contingency plan can cover every set of circumstances....So until we actually put our alternative energy "money where are mouths are" we have no one to blame but ourselves - we rely on those oil companies to fuel our livelihoods - so they are in control - not us

Shirley M. on Wednesday, January 02 2013:

Hummm - Shell Oil seems to have some real issues with safety & reliability. You sure you want to have this company doing business in our own back yard? No amount of money can ever replace the amount of damage this company has the potential to create.

Site by Joseph Redmon