Kulluk

Kulluk on the beach

Shell Oil has finally gone public with the story first carried anywhere back in January by firedoglake, that their conical drill rig, Kulluk, will be taken from Kiliuda Bay in Kodiak to Asia for major repairs. Additionally, their powered drill rig, Noble Discoverer, berthed in Seward, Alaska since being impounded by the U.S. Coast Guard in November, will be “dry towed” across the North Pacific to a shipyard in Asia. Their destination is almost certainly South Korea:

Both the much maligned Noble Discoverer and Kulluk, who have faced serious mechanical difficulties since completing Arctic drilling operations off of Alaska’s Arctic Continental Shelf last summer, will be headed to Asia soon according to a statement from Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith.

The Kulluk, which has remained anchored off of Kodiak Island since its New Year’s Eve grounding, will be towed from there to the international Port of Dutch Harbor pending a tow plan approval. From Dutch Harbor, the 266-foot diameter conical drilling unit will then be dry-towed to a ship yard in Asia with a suitable dry dock.

The Discoverer’s operator, Noble Drilling Corp., will also dry-tow the Discoverer from its current location in Seward to South Korea.

“The outcome of further inspections for both rigs will determine the shipyard schedule and timing of their return to service,” Smith said in the statement.

When exactly the rigs will leave Alaska is unclear. A representative from Unified Command, the joint operation involving Shell, U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, could not say whether the vessel remained in Kiliuda Bay Monday. They noted that the latest information on the vessel was on the command’s website — which hasn’t been updated since Jan. 30.

A “dry tow” or “dry-tow” is movement of a vessel on the deck of a large, semi-submersible ship, or powered, floating drydock.

For some reason, the transponders of all the vessels in and around the Kulluk in Kiliuda Bay, were turned off on January 30th and 31st, two days after I announced the contemplated Asia decision, and the same day Dan Joling from the Associated Press picked up the story, so it is difficult to know where the tug Aiviq is right now, for instance.

Lisa Demer, writing on the new development early this morning for the Anchorage Daily News, notes:

It has big vessels for the dry tows lined up, and the Noble Discoverer will leave Seward in three to six weeks for a trip across the Pacific Ocean that should take two to four weeks, Smith said.

In a dry tow, a large vessel submerges through added ballast below the draft of the rig to be towed, Smith explained. That allows the drilling rig to float over the vessel’s deck, and the tow vessel is raised up, with the drill rig on its deck for the tow. It’s a faster method than towing on the water.

There are rumors that Shell is searching the world for replacement vessels, as it appears neither the Kulluk nor the Noble Discoverer will even be reaching a yard before mid to late April.

Investigations into the grounding and Shell’s 2013 Alaska Arctic drilling season by the U.S. Coast Guard; the U.S. Department of the Interior; the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard; and possibly the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, will begin within a few weeks. No precise information on any of these has yet been released, although the Interior Department’s 60-day review period of Shell’s Alaska operations ends on March 7th.

This story may be updated later Tuesday.

Photo by USCG PO 3rd Class Jonathan Klinginberg