Kulluk aground

A number of Alaska bloggers have been making efforts to inform their regular readers and others drawn toward the news story of the grounding of and salvage efforts toward the Shell Alaska drilling rig, Kulluk.

In alphabetical order:

Just a Girl from Homer:  Shannyn Moore posts most of her essays first at the Anchorage Daily News, in her weekly op-ed, then at The Mudflats. (see below)

Progressive Alaska:  I’ve been writing articles at PA and at Firedoglake on aspects of Shell’s Arctic Drilling plans since last summer.  Since the Kulluk debacle began unfolding on December, I’ve posted a dozen articles here.  They are easy to find at the bottom right hand border of the blog, as they have been the only articles posted here since December 30th.  Most of those articles were cross-posted at the national progressive blog, Firedoglake.  And some of the Firedoglake articles have not been cross-posted here.

Of those, the most important was probably the one I wrote last night, List of Questions on Shell’s Alaska 2012 Arctic Drilling Fiasco Grows Longer by the Day.  I’m going to use some of that article as the basis for another one at PA, perhaps later today.

Of the articles I’ve posted at both places, the one that seems to have drawn the most attention was my interview with Alaska marine environmental icon, retired University of Alaska Prof. Rick Steiner.  You can read it here.

Because of my background, mostly in the distant past, working at sea in Alaska, on small and large fishing boats, as a charter boat operator, and as a deckhand on oceangoing tugs, including towing one of Shell’s key components of their drilling scheme – the Arctic Challenger – from Seattle to Barrow, and having participated in several salvage operations, I’m able to offer a little more to this subject than some might.

The Immoral Minority:  Jesse Griffin has posted three articles on the grounding.  They can be found and followed at IM under the tag, Shell Oil.

The Mudflats:  This high traffic blog has posted articles by both Jeanne Devon and Shannyn Moore.  Beginning December 31st, The Mudflats has offered two articles by Devon, one by Ryan Marquis,  from I Eat Gravel, one by Thomas Dewar, and an op-ed by Moore.  Four can be found under the tag Shell Oil.  Moore’s op-ed, which is a Must Read, can be found at this link.

Moore’s op-ed raises an interesting point that I don’t think anyone else had yet brought forth:

The 1990 Oil Pollution Act has a limited liability clause. It limits the amount non-tanker vessels can be forced to pay in the event of an accident. So, after Shell has incurred $28 million in expenses, it may be able to invoke its liability limit.

I quoted Moore in my Firedoglake essay on questions.  The questions that the limited liability clause bring to mind immediately are along the line of “how is it determined who has spent what?” and “how soon will we be able to corner Sens. Begich and – especially – Sen. Lisa Murkowski on this?”

Murkowski’s views are important, as she is a key figure in why this liability limit is so absurdly and unrealistically low.  And she is also a major recipient of political contributions from the builder of the vessel most responsible for this debacle, the Aiviq.

Like me, Moore has a maritime background in her past.   With her network of contacts that rivals the best investigative reporters in Alaska, as was illustrated in her breaking of the strange hiring of “Judge” Paul Pozonsky, Moore will probably have a lot more to add to the Kulluk debacle.

What Do I Know?  Once again, Steve Aufrecht has provided several fresh views of the response to the Kulluk debacle, from his viewpoint as a distinguished professor of public administration.  Steve has written seven articles on this, beginning on January 2nd.  His articles are important enough to be listed here by their individual titles, which are intriguing, as well as inviting:

January 2: Keeping Track of the Kulluk – SEACOR Owns The Communications System

January 2: Shell’s Kulluk Response: Look How Great We Are!

January 3: Kulluk News Briefing – Anchorage January 3, 2013 – Video Soon

January 3: Video of Presentations At Kulluk News Briefing Today In Anchorage

January 4: Kulluk News Briefing 2: Video of the Q&A

January 5: Kulluk Unified Command PIO Explains How Stakeholders Can Connect

January 6: Shell Has a Plan, But It’s Not Available

II.  Alaska’s mainstream media has provided some excellent coverage too:

Anchorage Daily News:  No sooner than the ADN put itself behind a very inelegantly designed paywall, they were presented with the first event to gain Alaska national environmental coverage in a while.  Reporter Lisa Demer has been covering Shell’s Arctic drilling season since it started, but the legacy newspaper has provided articles by Sean Cockerham, Kyle Hopkins and ace investigative reporter, Richard Mauer, since the grounding.  Mauer has been asking the most uncomfortable questions so far.

Alaska Dispatch:  I wondered whether the Dispatch would step up to the plate.  The site’s owner-publisher, Alice Rogoff has been an advocate of privatization of the U.S. Coast Guard.  In Juneau, in November 2011, she touted the idea to a large group of development proponents:

One possible Arctic investment that was discussed was tied to a possible plan to finance the construction of a new heavy icebreaker for Alaska by having the Coast Guard lease it from a private-sector builder, Rogoff said.

The conference, was also an opportunity for the well-connected Rogoff (she is married to David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group) to announce an Arctic development hedge fund:

A major hedge fund manager is developing a new Arctic investment fund to take advantage of moneymaking opportunities in an increasingly ice-free Arctic, a climate change conference was told Saturday. 

That could help bring needed infrastructure development to the region said Alice Rogoff, publisher of the AlaskaDispatch.com website. 

Rogoff spoke to the Juneau World Affairs Council’s “Politics of Global Climate Change” forum that concluded Saturday at the University of Alaska Southeast 
Rogoff said Alaska needs to be ready to capitalize on the Arctic’s new investment interest, and wants the state ready to attract some of that new investment in places where it wants and needs the development. 

“What is good development, and how can it come about in some sort of orderly way,” she said.


The Arctic investment fund that Rogoff revealed will be managed by Guggenheim Partners, a firm with $125 billion in assets under management. 

She said the investment interest by Guggenheim Partners of billions in the Arctic was “huge news” that would merit a big headline in the Wall Street Journal — if it knew about it.

Rogoff’s November Juneau speech, coupled with the Dispatch‘s close coverage of the launching of the Aiviq the following spring, led me to wonder whether the Dispatch would be able to report fully on the seamier aspects of this developing story.

Fortunately, the Dispatch has led the way on raising questions on some of the important, yet hidden aspects of this:

Builder of tug that failed Shell’s Kulluk has moneyed Alaska ties

Shell hoped to save millions in taxes by moving now-grounded drill rig out of Alaska

Kulluk: Were there signs of stormy seas ahead for Shell’s stranded oil rig?

Additionally, last August, the Dispatch’s Alex De Marban wrote the best investigative feature on the strange past of the Arctic Challenger, Shell’s hexed containment barge.

Alaska Public Radio Network:  Alaska has perhaps the best public radio network in the U.S.

They have covered the grounding, but to my knowledge have broken no new stories.  The sad fact that they turned coverage of the Kulluk grounding on their weekly news roundup last Friday over to oil industry shill and ex-Veco Voice of the Times hack Paul Jenkins, who unabashedly cashed scores of thousands of dollars of checks from Bill Allen, the sleaziest Alaskan operator ever, for years and years, says enough.

This coming Tuesday, APRN will devote their excellent Talk of Alaska to the subject Is Regulation Of Arctic Offshore Oil And Gas Drilling Adequate?

KTUU TV Anchorage:  Alaska’s flagship television outlet, KTUU has provided nominally adequate coverage, and has broken no stories.

Update – 11:55 PM AKST – I’m taking a gamble and saying the rig was extricated at about 10:00 PM our time.  The whole fleet is now headed east, toward refuge in a bay on Kodiak Island.  Oops – here comes the Unified Command:

ANCHORAGE, AK: At approximately 10:10 p.m., the Kulluk drilling vessel was refloated from its Sitkalidak Island position.

Currently, the Kulluk is attached to the Aiviq by tow line.  The Kulluk is currently floating offshore while personnel are assessing the condition of the vessel.  Three additional tugs are on standby along with the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and two oil spill response vessels.

“Following this initial step forward, we will continue to remain cautious while we assess the Kulluk’s condition,” said Martin Padilla, Incident Commander.  “We will not move forward to the next phase until we are confident that we can safely transport the vessel.”

There are currently more than 730 people involved in the response and recovery operation including local residents and a local on-site coordinator.  Following this stage of the operation there continue to be no injuries to response personnel.

Photo by US Coast Guard, public domain