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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.

Food Sunday: Trying to Master Sourdough While Contemplating Catastrophic Global Warming

12:26 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Sourdough bread - success!

I.  One of my new year’s resolutions is to become a decent bread baker.  In many ways I’m close to being a gourmet cook, but bread making is something I’ve neglected.

I buy bread at the store.  I’m getting increasingly frustrated, though, at the lack of excellent bakery bread available in stores in southcentral Alaska.  When we travel to Seattle, Portland, Oregon or California, the excellent Italian and French style breads readily available from local bakeries overwhelms me so much, I stuff loaves to bring north into empty coolers that brought seafood down from Alaska.

The kind of bread I crave the most that one cannot get here, is the rustic sourdough loaf, with a crunchy crust, big bubble holes in the bread itself, and a tangy, sourdough taste.  So, I’ve started trying to make that.

In the past, I’ve tried various sourdough starter recipes – some using yeast, some using yoghurt, some just relying on time itself to create a usable, somewhat stable lactobacillus.

In light of the new year’s resolution, I searched the web for the most interesting sourdough starter recipe.  One that seemed quite strange, but fascinating, involved whole wheat flour and pineapple juice.  I decided to try it.  The site that had both that method and good word and video backup is called Breadtopia.

Supposedly, the pineapple juice starter initiator method was created by Debra Wink, back in early 2008.

Breadtopia’s sourdough starter recipe takes a couple days or more longer to get going than many others, but it goes like this:

Step 1. Mix 3 ½ tbs. whole wheat flour with ¼ cup unsweetened pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for 48 hours at room temperature. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. (“Unsweetened” in this case simply means no extra sugar added).

Step 2. Add to the above 2 tbs. whole wheat flour and 2 tbs. pineapple juice. Cover and set aside for a day or two. Stir vigorously 2-3x/day. You should see some activity of fermentation within 48 hours. If you don’t, you may want to toss this and start over (or go buy some!)

Step 3. Add to the above 5 ¼ tbs. whole wheat flour and 3 tbs. purified water. Cover and set aside for 24 hours.

Step 4. Add ½ cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 to 1/3 cup purified water. You should have a very healthy sourdough starter by now.

Back in early February, I did just that.  I even juiced my own pineapple for freshness.  The starter evolved just as it was supposed to.  I tried it.

The first time was a failure – the bread did not rise much at all over a twelve-hour period.  It didn’t taste tangy.  I figured the house wasn’t warm enough.

The second time, the bread rose some, but was still brick-like.  It tasted a bit tangy.

The third time, I tried mixing in rye flour.  The bread rose a bit more, and tasted tangier.  I didn’t call it a success, though, just “progress.”  I turned most of the loaf into croutons for a King crab Caesar salad.

The fourth time, shown at the top of the article, was considered a success, by everyone who tasted it, and the loaf disappeared quickly.  I followed this recipe like a fundamentalist Christian might follow the Book of Numbers.

Here’s what the replenished starter looks like today.  Yesterday, shortly after adding flour and water, it brewed over.

Sourdough starter jar

How have you done at sourdough bread making, or at artisan bread baking?
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U.S. Coast Guard Investigation on Shell Alaska Drilling Rig Turned Over to U.S. Department of Justice

12:08 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Noble Discoverer

Shell Oil’s three main components to their plans to get an Arctic offshore drilling regime going before competitors showed up went off the rails in 2012:

•  The Arctic Challenger, their alleged cleanup rig, spectacularly failed its early September tests in Puget Sound, under idyllic conditions.  It wasn’t even deployed to Alaska, which forced Shell to have to drill shallow holes in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

• The Kulluk, an ungainly rig the size of the aircraft carrier Hornet,that took the Doolittle raid across the Pacific in April 1942, was ground severely on the Kodiak Island area coast for a week, during winter storms.

•  The obsolete and decrepit drill vessel Noble Discoverer had one problem after another, as it was forced beyond its limited capabilities.

2013 promises no changes, as the global giant is reeling from worldwide challenges to its rapacious business model.  Additionally, its failed Alaska offshore season is about to be scrutinized more closely, and more publicly, than British Petroleum was looked at in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In the first of what may become a cascade of U.S. government announcements, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday that they have turned their findings on the drill vessel Noble Discoverer over to the U.S. Justice Department:

The Coast Guard found the Noble Discoverer could not go fast enough to safely maneuver on its own in all the expected conditions found in Alaska’s Arctic waters.

The Coast Guard also found “systematic failure and lack of main engine preventative maintenance,” which caused a propulsion loss and exhaust system explosion.

Among other issues listed were inoperable equipment used to measure the oil in water that is dumped overboard, improper line splices throughout the engine room, piston cooling water contaminated with sludge and an abnormal propeller shaft vibration.

Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said he couldn’t discuss the details because the investigation has been forwarded to the Justice Department. Wadlow declined to say whether the Coast Guard believed criminal penalties could be warranted.

Shell announced early this week that the vessel under investigation is exiting the Western Hemisphere from Seward, Alaska, where it has been impounded since early November, on a dry tow vessel, destined for an Asian shipyard where, supposedly, it will be turned into some sort of perfect, or at least adequate ship, for extricating oil from under the Arctic Ocean’s floor.  There have been no announcements on how the DOJ involvement in the vessel might have an impact on Shell’s tow plan.

Within three weeks, the U.S. Department of Interior will be issuing their 60-day reassessment of Shell’s Arctic drilling plan, which has been somewhat torpedoed by the USCG announcement.  A negative assessment by DOI will set Shell back years, possibly driving their  stock share price into a major dip.

Independent of the findings on the Noble Discoverer, the USCG will be conducting a mandatory set of hearings into the December 31st grounding of the drill rig Kulluk, off the south shores of Kodiak Island.  That seriously damaged vessel is scheduled to be towed by two tugs to Dutch Harbor when harsh winter weather abates.  From there, it will also exit the Western Hemisphere and American scrutiny.

Alaska Senator Mark Begich has vowed to hold hearings on this, but has backed off from holding them in March.  His office told me Wednesday that it is looking more like the hearings will be in May.

I’m surprised that Shell’s Alaska management structure has remained intact though what has to have been the most poorly managed energy project season in our state’s history.  There will probably be a lot of heads rolling there before the end of May, though.

What may be most interesting to watch over the late winter and spring might be the way politicians pile on to Shell, so as to show they “really care” about responsible oil development, etc. – while other oil concerns ramp up their efforts to do their own offshore Arctic projects.

And their political contributions to such politicians.

As a side note:  I’m finding it more and more difficult to write about this and other subjects, here and elsewhere.  I think the evidence of impending catastrophic climate change, combined with the vulnerability of global nuclear waste are far, far more serious than even most environmental progressives yet realize.

Increasingly, I feel there is nothing you, I, or anyone can do to prevent a catastrophe that will reduce the worldwide human population by at least 75% within the next 75 years.

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.
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 →

USCG Pursuing Criminal Investigation Against Shell Drilling Rig In Alaska

1:29 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Noble Discoverer

Things just took a turn to the worse for Shell Alaska, and their scam to get two oil drilling rigs the hell out of Alaska before 2013, so as to avoid paying taxes here.

While its companion drilling rig, Kulluk, lies wallowing in the rocky surf off the southern coast of the Kodiak Island group, the Shell Alaska drilling rig Noble Discoverer lies impounded about 300 miles to the northeast, in Seward Harbor.  It pulled in to Seward in late November, with propulsion problems.  When the U. S. Coast Guard came aboard, things took a turn for the worse:

[T]he U.S. Coast Guard has launched a criminal investigation into the activities of a 572-foot oil drilling and exploration ship run by the Noble corporation, a group contracted by Royal Dutch Shell to search for oil in the arctic. Noble owned the Kulluk drilling rig that ran aground in rough Alaskan seas.

The revelation that another Noble ship working for Shell may have been operating with serious safety and pollution control problems bolstered allegations from environmental activists that the oil industry is unable to conduct safe oil drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean.

The Coast Guard conducted a routine marine safety inspection when Noble’s Discoverer arrived at a Seward, Alaska port in late November. The inspection team found serious issues with the ship’s safety management system and pollution control systems. The inspectors also listed more than a dozen “discrepancies” which, sources tell CBS News, led them to call in the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) to determine if there were violations of federal law.

Sources told CBS News that when criminal investigators arrived, the Noble Discoverer’s crew had been provided with lawyers and declined to be interviewed.

As pointed out by retired University of Alaska Prof. Rick Steiner, in my interview with him yesterday for Firedoglake, the is reason to doubt Shell will be able to drill in the Alaska Arctic at all during 2013:

Phil Munger:  In light of the revelation in the Alaska Dispatch today that Shell was indeed in a hurry to get out of Dodge – eh, Dutch – before New Years to avoid $6 million in taxes, do you have anything to add?

Rick Steiner: I say, great job by the Dispatch reporters on this!

Here again, is perfect evidence that Shell is putting profits over responsible conduct. We have seen this so much in Alaska oil industry and government we are almost desensitized to it.

This entire affair means that we take a “time-out” for 2013…even if the Kulluk (which apparently translates to “Thunder”) can be pulled off, it is almost certainly out of commission for 2013. That means not only that their 2013 Beaufort drilling is done, but also their Chukchi as they need the Beaufort rig as a potential relief rig for the Chukchi.

Anyone convinced that Shell Alaska’s performance here during the 2013 season shows the company ready to pursue more dangerous enterprises, like dealing with billions of gallons of crude oil off of and on our fragile Arctic coasts, needs to pursue another line of work. Read the rest of this entry →

Coast Guard Helicopter Rescues Crew From Imperiled Shell Arctic Drilling Rig – Updated

11:44 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Here is a short video released late Saturday by the U.S. Coast Guard, showing part of the helicopter rescue of crewmen from the drilling platform Kulluk.  The rig has been imperiled by multiple simultaneous engine failures aboard the oceangoing tug Aiviq, which was towing the rig from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Puget Sound, for modifications, repairs and winter berthing.

Shown in the video are the Kulluk – the round vessel with a tall central tower, the Nanuq – the long, slender vessel, and the Aiviq – the vessel with the helicopter platform over its bow.  The tug Guardsman, not shown in the video, is plotted on MarineTraffic.com as being close by.  All four vessels haven’t moved much since they grouped together yesterday morning. Rather than get close to the shore and seek shelter from the ongoing major winter storm, as they had planned yesterday, they have decided to put as many miles as possible between the rig and the rocks.

Here’s from an Alaska news report:

“It’s precautionary measure. They weren’t in any immediate danger,” Mosley said. “As this continued to unfold, they just wanted to mitigate any potential issues with that crew onboard.”

Coast Guard helicopters were also able to deliver a ton of engine parts and technicians to the Aiviq, and the ship’s crew had two of its four engines up and running by Saturday morning, Shell said.

What started as 20-foot seas and 40 mph wind built to 35-foot seas and gusts to more than 50 mph, the Coast Guard said.

The weather and the combined weight of the Kulluk and Aiviq were too much for the tugboat Guardsman, which was unable to stop the vessels from drifting. By 5:30 a.m. Saturday, its towline had also broken free, the Coast Guard said. Saturday morning, the Kulluk was about 27 miles from the Trinity Islands and drifting at a rate that would have had it hitting the islands in as little as 12 hours, Mosley told the Associated Press.

“We don’t want it to go aground,” he said. “When a vessel goes aground, it’s directly played upon by the waves hitting it and having it hit something solid.”

In what Shell spokesman Curtis Smith described as “cascading assets into the theater,” another Shell-contracted ship, the Nanuq, had been sent from Seward at the first sign of trouble. It arrived Saturday morning. The Aiviq soon had all four of its engines running, and with the Nanuq’s help, was towing the Kulluk farther out to sea to the southeast late Saturday, Smith said. The plan was to avoid more bad weather and the worst-case scenario that the vessels could again drift toward land, he said.

And here is the current marine forecast for Kodiak Island waters:

Storm Warning

COASTAL WATERS FORECAST FOR THE NORTHERN GULF OF ALASKA COAST UP TO 100 NM OUT INCLUDING KODIAK ISLAND AND COOK INLET. WIND FORECASTS REFLECT THE PREDOMINANT SPEED AND DIRECTION EXPECTED. SEA FORECASTS REPRESENT AN AVERAGE OF THE HIGHEST ONE-THIRD OF THE COMBINED WIND WAVE AND SWELL HEIGHT.
Synopsis…A 952 MB LOW 175 NM S OF KODIAK MOVES TO BRISTOL BAY MIDDAY SUNDAY AT 959 MB…THEN WEAKENS AS IT TRACKS ALONG THE SOUTHWEST COAST THROUGH MON MORNING. ANOTHER PACIFIC LOW TRACKS TO 480 NM S OF KODIAK AT 964 MB MON MORNING…THEN MOVES TO 120 NM SE OF CHIGNIK AT 962 MB LATE MON NIGHT.

Today: SE wind 40 kt increasing to S 50 kt in the afternoon. Seas 21 ft building to 28 ft in the afternoon. Rain.

Tonight: S wind 45 kt diminishing to 30 kt after midnight. Seas 22 ft subsiding to 15 ft after midnight. Rain and snow.

Mon: SE wind 25 kt becoming E 45 kt in the afternoon. Seas 15 ft. Rain and snow.

Mon Night: SE wind 50 kt. Seas 26 ft.

Tue: S wind 50 kt. Seas 30 ft.

As you can see, today is rougher than yesterday (I published yesterday’s forecast in an earlier post). The seas will come down on Monday, but another storm will hit Tuesday, perhaps worse then the one they are enduring.

It appears the tugs and barge are on a course of 200 degrees, with speeds averaging about 1.8 knots, which would put them about 90 miles further from shore when Tuesday’s storm hits.

So far, nobody has been reported to have been injured or lost.  Lets hope it remains that way.

So this is how Shell Oil rings out the year during which they hoped to start extracting oil from under the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

Update – Sunday 2:00 pm:  The so-called “Unified Command”  held a press conference in Anchorage at 1:00 pm Alaska time today.  I attended telephonically.  The Unified Command is the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Shell Alaska and Edison Chouest Offshore (owner of the drilling rig Kulluk).  They are maintaining a “Joint Information Center” during the ongoing emergency.  The Alaska DEC representative on the Joint Command, Steve Russell, described the Unified Command, saying how hard the State of AK worked, developing the “Unified command.”

I posted comments at this diary throughout the conference.  Here’s my summary:

What I got out of this press conference was:

1). Aiviq and Kulluk walked into this storm blithely.

2). At least two people have been injured.

3). USCG does not want to talk about why their cutter left the scene early Saturday.

4). Shell is backing off from earlier descriptions of the multiple simultaneous engine failures on the Aiviq being caused by fuel contamination. No mention in the presser of the USCG offloading “900 pounds” worth of new fuel injectors onto drifting Aiviq for those engines Saturday. This may be more important than is readily apparent.

5). There is nobody aboard the drill rig.

Should Tuesday’s storm part the lines again, like Friday’s did, it will be extremely dangerous to get anyone back aboard. Pumps are on automatic, but to re-hook for a tow, winches would have to be manned on the rig. No wonder they are putting as many miles as possible between them and the rocky coast of Kodiak Island eh?

Shell Oil’s Arctic Drilling Rig’s Tug in Gulf of Alaska Emergency – Shell Considering Evacuating Kulluk Crew

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Where are Shell's distreesed vessels?

On Thursday, Shell Oil Alaska announced its unpowered drilling rig Kulluk, being towed south from Dutch Harbor to Puget Sound, was in distress, due to complete engine failures on its towing vessel, the MV Aiviq:

The Coast Guard prepared Saturday to evacuate an 18-member crew of a Shell drill ship that was stalled in rough Gulf of Alaska waters, south of Kodiak Island.

The Coast Guard requested that the crew evacuate the Kulluk for safety reasons. The guard said it would have no more details until the evacuation was completed.

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC drill ship was being towed Thursday from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands to Seattle when problems arose. By Friday, the ship was stalled in the Gulf with a towing vessel whose engines had failed. A relief tug was sent out on 20-foot waves and winds of 40 mph to rescue the ships.

The Kulluk has no propulsion system. The 360-foot Aiviq was towing the drill ship when the Aiviq reported multiple engine failures. The Aiviq crew was able to restart one engine, and with generators had enough power to maintain its position. Two vessels under contract to Shell left Seward when the trouble began — the tug Guardsman and The Nanuq, Shell’s principal oil spill response vessel.

This morning, Shell released the following:

The Shell-contracted response vessel, the Nanuq, arrived on scene at 6:30 a.m. and is assessing the situation to safely conduct a tow with the Kulluk.

Essential equipment parts were delivered to the Aiviq by two Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak-based MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crews Saturday morning. Repairs are commencing aboard the Aiviq, and a second engine has been brought online.

Precautionary evacuation efforts are being evaluated to remove all non-essential personnel from the Kulluk.

“Our main priority remains the safety of all crews involved in this situation,” said Capt. Paul Mehler III, commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. “To help ensure safety of all involved, we have directed multiple Coast Guard assets to the area, including the Coast Guard Cutter Hickory, our Kodiak based HC-130s and Jayhawk helicopter aircrews.”

The Hickory is scheduled to arrive in the area Saturday afternoon.

The marine weather forecast for the waters in which this is happening is not promising:

Storm Warning

COASTAL WATERS FORECAST FOR THE NORTHERN GULF OF ALASKA COAST UP TO 100 NM OUT INCLUDING KODIAK ISLAND AND COOK INLET. WIND FORECASTS REFLECT THE PREDOMINANT SPEED AND DIRECTION EXPECTED. SEA FORECASTS REPRESENT AN AVERAGE OF THE HIGHEST ONE-THIRD OF THE COMBINED WIND WAVE AND SWELL HEIGHT.
Synopsis…A WEATHER FRONT OVER THE NORTH GULF COAST WILL DISSIPATE SAT MORNING. A PACIFIC LOW WILL STRENGTHEN TO 954 MB 320 NM SOUTH OF KODIAK CITY SAT EVENING AND WEAKEN TO 961 MB 70 NM NORTHEAST OF CHIGNIK SUN MORNING BEFORE MOVING INLAND ACROSS SOUTHWEST ALASKA.

Today: S wind 35 kt diminishing to E 15 kt by noon then increasing to NE 50 kt in the late afternoon. Seas 20 ft. Rain.

Tonight: E wind 50 kt diminishing to 40 kt after midnight. Seas 18 ft. Rain.

Sun: S wind 45 kt. Seas building to 26 ft. Rain.

Sun Night: S wind 35 kt. Seas 22 ft.

Mon: E wind 45 kt. Seas 24 ft.

Shell’s 2012 Arctic drilling season has been one setback clusterfuck after another:

The drilling rig Noble Discoverer went aground in Dutch Harbor in July.

The relief and response vessel, Arctic Challenger, failed tests of its spill capping device in early September.

Ice drove the exploratory drilling fleet out of place for two weeks in September.

And now this:

Guardsman takes Kulluk under tow

In 1982, I was on a tug – the Miriam de Felice – in almost the exact same place as this is happening, when we lost one of our two engines, and the stress on the remaining one caused it to start breaking down too.  We were in a storm a lot less harsh than this one, and barely made it to port for repairs.  I predict the Alviq will also be repaired, and the Noble Discoverer brought into Kodiak or Seward until the tug is fixed enough to continue on southward.