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Shell Hopes to Resume Alaskan Arctic Drilling in 2014

12:07 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The Kulluk in happier times

Royal Dutch Shell announced to shareholders last week that they are contemplating a resumption of oil drilling in Arctic waters adjacent to Alaska this coming summer season:

“We have not yet confirmed if we drill in 2014, but we do expect to file an exploration plan shortly, maybe in the next couple of weeks. It’s likely to be focused on the Chukchi,” Shell Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry told reporters in a media teleconference detailing the company’s third-quarter results.

Shell reported third-quarter earnings that were nearly a third lower than those for the third quarter of 2012. The company cited numerous reasons for the drop, including weaker refinery-business conditions, increased upstream operations and exploration costs, challenges in Nigeria and reduced dividends from an LNG venture.

After an expensive series of mishaps in late 2012 and early 2013, Shell sat out the recently ended 2013 drilling season, as they licked their self-inflicted wounds:

The New Year’s Eve grounding of the Kulluk, the Shell-owned drill ship dedicated to Beaufort operations, was apparently the final blow to the company’s plans to operate there, at least for the foreseeable future. The Kulluk was so badly damaged in the grounding that it may never return to service. It’s been in a Singapore shipyard for months.

“We will not take the Kulluk back next year,” Henry said. “The repair costs may exceed the benefits of doing so.”

The so-called “impairment costs” for the Kulluk could be “a few hundred million dollars in the fourth quarter,” he said. Shell is replacing the Kulluk with a leased drill rig, the Polar Pioneer, Henry said. That ship, owned by Transocean, is semi-submersible unit that is nearly square — 279 feet long and 233 feet wide, according to Transocean’s website.

If Shell pursues Chukchi drilling, it will be done with the Noble Discoverer, the leased drill ship that operated in the Chukchi in 2012, said Megan Baldino, Shell’s Anchorage spokeswoman. The company intends to bring the Noble Discoverer back to Alaska, she said. The Polar Pioneer is intended to be the back-up rig available to drill a relief well, in accordance with federal regulations, Baldino said.

Shell has already spent about $5 billion on its Alaska oil-exploration program, but has managed so far to drill only the top portions of two wells, one in the Chukchi and one in the Beaufort. The company was forbidden by federal authorities to drill into oil-bearing zones because a mandatory oil-containment barge failed to pass U.S. Coast Guard tests in time for the 2012 drilling season.

Henry, in the conference call, said that vessel, the Arctic Challenger, now has regulatory clearance, but that all of the two dozen ships in the fleet that Shell would amass for future Chukchi drilling must also pass new regulatory muster.

The new regulatory muster they must pass is still indefinite, as not all investigations into Shell’s botched 2012 efforts have concluded.  They must submit an entirely new exploration plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a new marine mammal protection plan to the National Marine Fisheries  Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, clean air permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, and even more:

Shell must comply with yet-to-be-issued Arctic-specific rules for future oil and gas activities. Those rules are expected to be released by BOEM before the end of the year, and are expected to cover travel to and from the Arctic — as well as any activities by drillers. The rules are being drafted in response to a Department of Interior investigation into the Kulluk grounding and Shell’s other 2012 woes.

And the U.S. Coast Guard Kulluk grounding investigation has not issued its final report.

My gut feeling is that Shell doesn’t really hold out great hopes for 2014 Alaskan waters drilling.  Greenpeace seems to be thinking along the same lines:

Shell’s Arctic bravado is a desperate attempt to reassure its investors, but the facts tell a different story. Brushing off the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars and casually scrapping a drilling platform are not the actions of a company in control of its operations,” Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace International’s Arctic campaign leader, said in a statement issued hours after Shell’s teleconference.

“In 2012 Shell proved it is completely unfit to drill in the remote Arctic, a place of unrivaled beauty where any spill would be an environmental catastrophe. In April, it signed a joint deal with Russia’s state owned giant Gazprom, one of the world’s most polluting oil companies with a record of serious negligence. Shell has run out of options, and is prepared to gamble its reputation on projects and partnerships that other oil companies have dismissed as far too risky,” Ayliffe said.

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Shell Announces It Will “pause its exploration drilling activity for 2013 in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas”

11:27 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk tow

On Tuesday, Shell Oil’s wounded conical drill rig, the Kulluk, was towed out of Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island, headed back to Dutch Harbor, and from there, to a Korean shipyard.

Today, the oil giant announced the following:

“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term programme that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said  Marvin Odum, Director, Upstream Americas.  “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012.”

Alaska holds important energy resources. At the same time, securing access to those resources requires special expertise, technology and an in depth understanding of the environmental and societal sensitivities unique to the region. Shell is one of the leaders in an industry move into offshore Arctic exploration. The company continues to use its extensive experience in Arctic and sub-Arctic environments to prepare for safe activities in Alaska.

Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future. If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop.

Shell’s other rig which had been used in their trouble-plagued 2012 season, the Noble Discoverer, is berthed in Seward, Alaska, awaiting arrival of a giant floating, powered dry dock, which will bring it to an Asian ship yard.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, according to my talk with his D.C. staff last week, has moved his Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing or hearings on Shell’s 2012-2013 conduct from March to May, but provided no further detail.

The Department of Interior will be issuing their report on Shell’s permit to drill in the Arctic by March 10th.

The U.S. Coast Guard has turned their findings on the Noble Discoverer‘s severe shortcomings over to the U.S. Justice Department, for possible criminal prosecution.

And the blog, Alaska Chinook, is reporting the following:

According to reliable sources, a member of the Alaska delegation may soon be under indictment for back-door pressuring the EPA to allow SHELL to move forward with its 2012 drilling program – which culminated with environmental crimes. When it became known that contaminated engine fuel could not meet the EPA “Air Quality” permitting and such would have caused SHELL to vacate any attempts to continue its 2012 exploration program, a project that has seen a whole lot of discomfort and controversy so far, instead of not backing off and adhering to its permitting criteria, SHELL was given the “Green light” to continue on with its program.

Stormy weather ahead for Shell.

Kulluk and Noble Discoverer to Both Be “Dry Towed” to Asia for Costly Repairs

9:19 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

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

Cost to Shell of Kulluk Grounding? $90 Million and Counting ….

1:38 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Shell arctic drilling deployment scheme

Thursday, at Shell Oil’s annual Results Conference in London, Shell CEO Peter Voser delivered a prepared address on the company’s global performance during 2012.  It included little information about the energy giant’s 2012 Alaska Arctic drilling season fiascos we don’t already know:

“Despite making some progress we have run into problems in the last few months. Our rigs will need more work if they are going to be ready for the 2013 drilling season. One, the Noble Discoverer needs a series of upgrades, and the other, the Kulluk, ran aground in a heavy storm on New Year’s Eve and has been damaged.”

After the address, though, Vosser answered questions from the press.  His answers provided some new information.  Questioned on whether or not Shell had decided to move the rigs when they did to avoid paying millions in Alaska taxes, Vosser tried to wriggle out from under previous statements and information available through Shell officials in Alaska:

Tim Webb, the energy editor at The Times in London, asked Voser if Shell was moving the rig from Unalaska to Seattle in order to evade Alaska’s oil and gas property tax.

“Assuming you say that’s true, because I think that came from Shell, would you say that’s an example of Shell not managing risks correctly, or making a poor decision in terms of managing risk in Alaska?”

In response, Voser denied that the decision to move the rig had anything to do with taxes, saying that the $5-6 million they would have had to pay is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

“There was a statement made by a Shell person, but in a completely different context, in a completely different meeting. That was then taken out of that context and then someone made a story out it. Just to be very clear on this one.”

The original story was written by Dutch Harbor Fisherman reporter Jim Paulin. In it, he quoted an email from Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith that was sent before the grounding. Paulin says he stands by his reporting.

“And I don’t think Shell would be backing away from that comment had it not gone aground. I think they would have been sending lobbyists to Juneau to try to repeal that tax. And I think that would be, in my opinion, the motivation for making that comment that it influenced their decision to move it.”

Reporter Paulin’s statement about Shell lobbyists in Juneau is, if anything, understatement.  During the same day Shell CEO Vosser  was delivering his annual report, in Juneau, the oil industry was flexing its muscle as it only can in Alaska.

The 2012 election brought an end to a Senate bipartisan coalition that dated back to shortly after the FBI busted a number of Alaska legislators for taking bribes from the major oil field service company in Alaska, Veco.  Although it was understood at the time that Veco’s bribers were working on behalf of oil giant ConocoPhillips, no employees from the latter were ever indicted by the Justice Department.  The crooked legislators smugly called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club,” and even had baseball caps made with the term plastered across them.

Replacing the bipartisan Senate coalition is a new GOP-run super majority that is intent on ramming through Senate Bill 21, which will repeal the most important element of Alaska’s taxation of oil fields here, and strip billions of dollars per year from state coffers and give it to immensely wealthy oil companies, like ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and Exxon-Mobil.

Tuesday through Thursday, the Senate Special Committee on TAPS [Trans-Alaska Pipeline System] Throughput held telephonic hearings across the state on SB 21.  About 90% of the testimony was in favor of not implementing SB 21, or of even tweaking our tax rate on the oil industry, which is at the bottom of the middle of the pack worldwide.
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Shell Drill Rig Kulluk Heavily Damaged – To Be Put on Oceangoing Drydock and Moved to Asia

11:59 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk on the beach 01:01:13

I have now received word from two anonymous sources on Kodiak Island that it appears damage assessment of the Shell Oil drill rig Kulluk is far worse than has been thus far disclosed by the Unified Command:

Severe hull damage, making it unsafe to tow it to Puget Sound.

Severe power plant damage from saltwater contamination

Severe damage to wiring, ventilation and other internal control systems

Supposedly, a very large, oceangoing dry dock will be underway soon to Kodiak from Asia, and the rig will then be brought to Asia, most likely Korea, where it has been worked on before.

At present, the rig is being attended in Kiliuda Bay, an the southern shore of Kodiak Island by the tugs Pt. Oliktok, Warrrior, Lauren Foss, Ocean Wave and Corbin Foss.  Also on the scene is the anchor-handling vessel Aiviq, oil service vessel Nanuq, and the recently arrived oil service vessel, Sisuaq.  Several other smaller vessels are also present.  The Kulluk is now at anchor in the bay.

Kulluk attendees - 01:28:2013 @ 10-30 am

I called the 17th U.S. Coast Guard District headquarters this morning for possible confirmation.  I was told they have no public information, and referred to Shell Alaska’s press representative, Jennifer Taylor.  She did not answer my call, and there was no message service.  The Unified Command HQ has ceased to list a contact phone.  I contacted Shell’s U.S. media relations for the Kulluk incident, and was able to leave a message.  I also left a message with the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Oil Spill Prevention and Response.

The latest information published by the Unified Command on the vessel’s condition was posted back on January 18th, nine days ago.  In the UC release, it was stated in part:

•  Multiple entities are involved in the review of data, including: the U.S. Coast Guard, Shell, Smit Salvage and Det Norske Veritas. These reports involve precise calculations; it is important to ensure the accuracy of any reports in order to develop the next steps for the Kulluk. At this time there is no firm date for completion of the damage assessment report.

•  Once the damage report is completed, the Kulluk and any plans to move the vessel will be evaluated before it is moved to its next location.

•  Water did enter some spaces of the vessel through damaged hatches. However, the water has been captured and is being safely stored in a compartment.

•  The damage discovered on the Kulluk is consistent with what is expected from a vessel of this type being on hard ground. The fuel tanks are intact.

•  Points of entry for water into the Kulluk are being sealed (i.e., windows and hatches). Additionally, tow brackets are being added for preparation for the next move.

Alaska blogger, Steve Aufrecht was just one of many who has been frustrated by the extended news blackout at Unified Command.  He has written several posts on the incident and is increasingly frustrated by his inability to find out anything of substance:

But they aren’t just mum about damage extent.  They are mum about everything.  At least at the news briefings there was a chance to ask questions to real people.  But the last one, to my knowledge, was January 5.

Aufrecht is a retired Professor Emeritus of Public Policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the fact that he is this upset is significant.

Alaska’s leading maritime oil spill expert, retired University of Alaska Professor, Richard Steiner feels that if my Kodiak information on Shell’s Asia renovation and repair plans turns out to be accurate, Shell’s 2013 Alaska drilling season, perhaps even 2014′s, are non-starters.

Thursday, I discovered that Sen. Mark Begich’s proposed hearing (he’s chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard) on the Kulluk and Shell’s readiness to drill off our shores will be held sometime in March.  I asked his office the following questions:

1. When will the hearing or hearings take place?

2. Where will they be?

3. Will witnesses be sworn in?

4. Do you plan on subpoenaing any documents, such as the Aiviq log book, correspondence and phone records between Shell and the Aiviq crew prior to departure from Dutch Harbor, or other important records?

5. Will the entire subcommittee participate?

Friday,  in Washington DC, a small number of pro-environment organizations held a congressional briefing on Shell’s 2012 string of screwups and near-disasters:

Environmentalists from Alaska are hoping to persuade Congressional staffers Shell Oil should not continue its drilling operation in the Arctic this summer.

The groups held a Congressional briefing on Friday.

Congressional briefings are free of the formalities and TV cameras of Congressional hearings. And they lack the members of Congress themselves.

And many in this town think that’s a good thing, because it’s the staffers who attend the briefings. And it’s the staffers who have the policy expertise. The briefing was organized by the office of California Democrat Barbara Boxer – she chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

I suppose one aspect of Shell’s attempting to hide this as long as they can may be the impact such adverse news will have on the value of their stock share price.

I’ve seen a lot of poorly managed operations in Alaska over the years, but this clusterfuck (a term first used by my informant at the Arctic Challenger containment dome testing fiasco, several clusterfucks ago) clearly sets a new standard of haplessness, negligence, lies and coverups. Read the rest of this entry →

After Kulluk Hull Damage Assessment, Shell Mum on Damage Extent – State of Alaska Could Care Less

12:43 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk aground Sitkalidak Island

The oil drilling rig Kulluk, which spectacularly went aground on Sitkalidak Island south of Kodiak late on New Years Eve, was salvaged on January 6th, and towed about 40 miles to Kiliuda Bay, where it has been anchored since. Salvage experts have thoroughly gone over the inside and outside of the rig over the intervening days.

The so-called Unified Command structure, which was enacted before the grounding, and peaked on January 6th at over 700 people, more than half of which were government or Alaska Native corporation employees, is still in place, though much reduced. There are about 250 people involved on Kodiak Island, a smaller team in Anchorage.

However, Shell Alaska appears to be calling the shots at this point, when it comes to letting people know anything about the extent of the damage the ungainly rig sustained during severe storm conditions, and while being knocked about upon a rocky coast for a week:

The operation is under the direction of unified command structure made up of the Shell, the Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the Kodiak Island Borough. The unified command has acknowledged that the vessel remains upright, has not leaked fuel and has been examined by divers, but not much else.

“I know you’re looking for specific answers but we wanted to let you know that due to the fact that multiple entities are involved in the assessment of data, including Unified Command, Shell, Smit Salvage and Det Norske Veritas, Unified Command will not comment on the assessment until the report is finalized,” said spokeswoman Deb Sawyer by email in response to questions about the operation. She did not provide a timetable of when the report would be done.

Meanwhile, after the U.S. Coast Guard, other Federal agencies, the Alaska Department of Conservation, other Alaska state agencies, Native entities and other local governmental functions have spent millions from the public purse, it appears the State of Alaska, perhaps the most oil-friendly state in the country, could care less.

Marine ecosystem and oil spill expert Rick Steiner queried Gary Mendivil, an Environmental Program Specialist with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Office of the Commissioner, about his concerns over the fragility of the damaged rig’s hull:

Under the auspices of the Alaska Public Records Act, I request a copy of all records, whether printed documents, still photographs, and/or video from the underwater ROVs or divers, pertaining to the inspection of the condition of the Kulluk as of this date.

Mendivil’s response was quick and brief:

Our response that no records exist is true for the entire department, including the Commissioner.

Steiner is concerned that the state DEC is a blank slate on this. He should be, as should we all.

He wrote to me earlier Friday:

The rig is anchored in state waters, had been hard aground for a week, has 150,000 gallons of fuel still on board, and has been extensively inspected, and that rests in the Unified Command, which state is part of ….

And this is the state government that asserts it will maintain very stringent oversight of Arctic offshore drilling?

I had a short talk with Alaska Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell early this afternoon, after a presentation we both had attended.  I didn’t push him on the Kulluk grounding, but should have.

I suspect the Unified Command will make an announcement on the hull and inner structure damage to the Kulluk soon.  But, given the millions of dollars, and risks to scores of lives Shell’s hubris and negligence have so far caused because of this ungainly contraption, it should not be allowed to proceed until their assessment has been vetted by the USCG and the Alaska DEC and has been made public.

Sen. Begich, U.S. House, Interior Department and USCG All to Investigate Shell Alaska and Kulluk Grounding

3:02 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Portrait of Mark Begich

Senator Mark Begich of Alaska announced an investigation into the grounding of the Kulluk.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D), the Department of the Interior and the United States Coast Guard all announced Tuesday that they will be investigating aspects of the New Years Eve grounding of Shell Alaska’s Arctic oil drilling rig, Kulluk, on an island off of Kodiak.

Last week, Rep. Ed Markey (D – Mass), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, along with other House Democrats in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment coalition indicated they hope for a House probe:

The coalition is made up of 45 House Democrats.

“The recent grounding of Shell’s Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic,” they said in a joint statement. “This is the latest in a series of alarming blunders, including the near-grounding of another of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor and the failure of its blowout containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, in lake-like conditions.”

The coalition believes these “serious incidents” warrant thorough investigation, the statement said.

We’ll see if Markey can get the GOP-controlled HCNR to formally investigate this.  I have my doubts. Alaska Rep. Don Young is a senior GOP member of the committee, and he will do everything he can to keep anything from getting in Shell’s way.  However, Markey, who has let it be known he is considering a run to take Sen. John Kerry’s place in the Senate, will push this hard.

The U.S. Coast Guard investigation of the Kulluk‘s grounding is inevitable.  The announcement today is no surprise:

The Coast Guard has ordered a marine casualty investigation of the Shell Oil-contracted drilling rig Kulluk’s Dec. 31 grounding on Sitkalidak Island, a day after it was safely towed to an anchorage about 30 miles away.

A Tuesday statement says the investigation, ordered by Coast Guard 17th District commander Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, will be led by a Coast Guard investigator. It will receive support and technical advice from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board.

“In accordance with statute, the formal investigation will probe every aspect of the incident, to include but not limited to the causes of the incident, whether there is evidence that any failure of material was involved or contributed to the incident or whether there is evidence of misconduct, inattention, negligence (or) willful violation of the law,” officials wrote.

We’ll get to hear the crew of the Kulluk and Aiviq testify.  Under oath.

Within the past hour, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it will conduct a review of Shell Alaska:

The Interior Department is launching a “high-level,” 60-day review of Shell’s troubled 2012 attempts to look for oil off Alaska’s northern coast after the company experienced a series of mishaps.

The review arrives a week after Shell’s Kulluk drillship ran aground en route back from the Arctic region, and as Interior is under pressure from green activists to block 2013 drilling off Alaska’s coast.

Sen. Begich issued a press release this morning, which links to the formal letter he has sent to Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil USA and Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the USCG.  Begich issued the notice in his capacity as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.  This is from his press release:

Read the rest of this entry →

Alaska Blog and Media Coverage of the Kulluk Grounding – Updated

4:12 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

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: Read the rest of this entry →

List of Questions on Shell’s Alaska 2012 Arctic Drilling Fiasco Grows Longer by the Day

2:18 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk aground

Back on July 27th, when I first started covering aspects of Shell Alaska’s plans to begin offshore drilling off our coasts up here, I already had questions.  That day, I wrote, reminiscing about what I knew of the spill response barge Arctic Challenger back in 1982 :

Crew members of towing tugs had been injured over the five years since the barge’s completion, and it was not considered to be a “good luck” barge in fleet scuttlebutt. It never really found a niche after the Sealifts were over.  It languished, being shuttled from Seattle to the Gulf of Mexico to Coos Bay, Oregon, where it stayed for a long time.

The next week I went to Bellingham harbor, where the barge was being outfitted with a new, untried piece of equipment.  Shell didn’t answer my calls for an appointment request, so I showed up at 7:45 am at the security office, and managed to get inside two layers of security before a gatekeeper decided I had the look of somebody who might be asking too many questions.  He was right.

Shell refused to let me photograph or even view the work being done on the Challenger and its containment dome apparatus.  Instead:

[The project director] flatly told me “No,” and I was not allowed to take any photographs of the vessel.  He assured me that Shell Oil will be contacting me soon with more information.

The ambience of the work place there reminded me very much of projects in the past where I have worked that are seriously behind schedule and nervous of potential outcomes.

I was followed by private police until I left Bellingham.

Although Shell wasn’t ready to share their work with me, it proved impossible to hide either the vessel’s dismal history or its shortcomings from the public.  Longtime Alaska reporter, Alex De Marban, wrote in mid-August, that in 2007, while rusting away in Long Beach, California harbor, the Arctic Challenger attracted so many birds, it was temporarily declared a “bird sanctuary” for Caspian terns:

At one point, hundreds of Caspian terns, gulls, cormorants, pelicans, ravens, crows and even an owl turned the 300-foot barge into a giant’s bird nest, coating the deck with bird dung and other gunk. That was in California’s Long Beach Harbor in 2007, where the downtrodden vessel became a bit of a media celebrity as wildlife regulators raced to save the protected terns and their chicks.

De Marban didn’t have many questions in mid-August, but he noted that others did: Read the rest of this entry →

Is Shell About to Kill Someone in Risky Attempt to Save 2013 Arctic Drilling Season? – Updated

3:09 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk Salvage Attempt Sit @ 1300 AKST - 1/5/13

The Kulluk grounding Unified Command released information Saturday morning that all but indicates there will be an attempt to extricate the stranded drilling rig from the beach of Sitkalidak Island sometime today or tonight:

ANCHORAGE, AK – Unified Command (UC) today plans to hook a main tow line to the Kulluk to test capabilities in preparation for recovery operations of the drilling unit. This plan will depend heavily on weather and tidal considerations.

The UC also plans to deploy boom, as a precautionary measure, to Kodiak Island, with special attention being paid to salmon streams connecting to Ocean Bay.

Unified Command has developed a wildlife protection plan to be used in the event that wildlife in the area is impacted during the recovery. They have activated International Bird Rescue to assist in bird rescue programs should their expertise be required. In addition, Protected Species Observers are being deployed on-scene.

As previously stated, all plans rely on weather and tidal conditions.

The Kulluk remains upright and stable with no reports of sheen in the vicinity. Salvage teams conducted an additional survey confirming all fuel tanks remain intact. Throughout all operations the safety of the responders will continue to be the top priority.

The map above is one I created, showing the situation as of 1300 hrs. AKST today.  I added the position of the Kulluk, as it does not have an active transponder.

The vessels shown on the map are:

1.  The Alert, a state-of-ste art tug, owned by Crowley Maritime, under contract to Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, as a required Prince William Sound (PWS) response vessel for tankers transiting the PWS area.  It was the tug that was ordered to release the Kulluk during the storm on New Years Eve. It is equipped with a very high quality and capable winch system.

2.  U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, the USCG’s main Alaska asset for ocean emergencies.  It is most likely serving as the Unified Command’s local HQ for any attempt to extricate the rig.

3.  Pt. Oliktok, is a Seward-based small tug.  Built for Crowley in 1981-82, (I helped register its original compass on Elliot Bay in Seattle, in July, 1982).  It is shallow draft, with reinforced bottom, and might be helpful near shore.

4.  The Warrior, an old tug of Crowley’s 9,000 HP class, built in the late 1970s, mostly for barge towing between Seattle and Whittier, Alaska.  Currently based in Seward.  A tried and reliable design, but with older towing equipment.

5.  The Nanuq, a new oil rig service vessel, with large deck space and towing equipment that was shown to be inadequate last week.

6.  The Arctic Responder 2, a small Dutch Harbor-based oil spill response vessel, with very small deck space and no towing capability.  Probably to be used as a shuttle, should seas get very calm.

7.  The Perseverance, a supply vessel, whose role I’m unsure of.

8.  The Aiviq, the new tug built last year specifically for Shell’s Arctic operations, and whose design, performance and towing equipment are coming under increasing scrutiny.  Not to mention the political role its builder plays in Alaska oil politics.

You can go to this URL and watch the movements of the vessels named above.  In the 50 minutes since I took the screenshot, the Arctic Responder 2 and Nanuq have closed upon the Kulluk.

High tide will be around 6:53 pm local time.  At 8.2 feet, it is classified as a “holdup” tide.  Under normal circumstances, this would not be quite enough water to pull a wreck off a beach where it had just a few days ago been pounded by 20 to 30-foot seas.

I’ve pulled two valuable books from my library, thinking about how I might do this job:   Edward M. Brady’s Tugs, Towboats and Towing; and the same author’s Marine Salvage Operations.  I hate to say it, but these guys – today – are breaking more than a few rules.

Questions have arisen over the past few days over the fact that the towing winch on the Aiviq might not have been of a strength and sophistication to meet the specifications of the agreement that Shell had signed on to with the Federal government to proceed with the 2012 season.  More on that later.  Until then:

Phil –

FYI, I’ve just confirmed from Unified Command that the tug Aiviq does NOT have Best Available Technology (BAT) towing winch, which is a dynamic tensioning Markey Automatic Render & Recovery (AR&R) towing winch.  I will attach the PWS RCAC Aug. 2012 towing technology expert report, which discusses the BAT section on p.4 the following:

“The vast majority of operators agree that the electric-driven Markey Render-Recover© winch is the best winch technology on the market today.”

I believe Shell was required to have BAT in all its operations, and one would think that it would have outfitted its new $200 million purpose-built tug with the best towing winch possible.   This may have contributed to the repeated loss of tow.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the pressure from Shell on the USCG and the various parties contracted to pull this removal off this evening doesn’t get anyone killed.

Update – 2:45 pm AKST:  During Unified Command Press Conference, now winding down, Shell Alaska posted this youtube of their plan for what they will do if they get it off the beach: