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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 →

The Kulluk Unified Command HQ as an Indicator Shell Alaska Has Its Head Up Its Ass – Updated

1:40 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Unified Command for the Kulluk response

I’ve suspected since early August that Shell Alaska was more interested in style than substance, and that their chain of command didn’t know how to deal creatively with either disruption, or with questions about the quality of their work.  I also suspect others who have left their ship know this too.

It isn’t like this is unique to corporate cultures or to energy industry corporate cultures.  Loyalty is something I’ve sought from my employees when I had them.  But never at the expense of their being able to speak up about problems when they occur.

Shell Alaska, becoming desperate as people in its upper and inner workings saw their timeline charts becoming unrealistic, freaked out last summer.  I got a glimpse of it on August 7th, 2012,when I showed up at the Bellingham, Washington dock where the Arctic Challenger was being modified for its role in the 2012 Arctic drilling season:

[I] requested a tour of the project. [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.

I’m such a malicious physical threat, right?  Never got the call, by the way.  Nobody from Shell Alaska has answered any of my several calls, emails or other queries.  Ever.

This week’s grounding of the Kulluk may have actually been inevitable.  A new, untried design, the  Aiviq, took at least one too many chances when deciding to not take shelter – there were no lack of good options – about a week ago, as weather reports rapidly worsened in the north Gulf of Alaska.

We don’t know yet what sorts of pressure the skipper of the tug might have been under as he pushed his tug into mounting sea, while towing an unwieldy pie dish the size of two football fields welded side-to-side, into waters notorious for messing with tugs and their tows.

Rick Steiner put it succinctly yesterday:

There is a lot to learn about this cascade of failures that put the Kulluk on the rocks.  The rig was not adequately equipped for heavy weather towing, they should have called the Alert sooner, and tried to shelter sooner. 

Clearly Shell should have thought through contingencies for a loss of tow in heavy weather, and they didn’t. The weather encountered is not extreme and unexpected in the Gulf of Alaska in the winter – it’s just winter. This doesn’t inspire confidence in their safety and contingency planning capability.

It does not.  And Steiner, a longtime critic of Shell Alaska, is not alone.

Retired University of Alaska Prof. Steiner has been looking at this from the viewpoint of tens of thousands of hours of maritime experience.  Retired University of Alaska Prof. Steve Aufrecht is looking at the grounding and response from the viewpoint of a highly regarded expert on public policy.  Aufrecht published two articles Wednesday that clearly show his concern about how the Unified Command is handling the grounding.

The first, Keeping Track of the Kulluk – SEACOR Owns The Communications System, looks at the online architecture and corporate connections of the Unified Command’s web presence.  Aufrecht isn’t as creeped out as me about the strange interconnections and conflicts of interest involved here, but he is concerned:

This feels a bit like Diebold running the voting machines.

I don’t think the industry that has caused the problem should be the one running the information system the public and the media have to use to get information about what’s going on.

I understand that government salary levels don’t allow them to compete with the private sector for the best and brightest computer folks.  But when they contract out for private companies to run the website for something like this, they should get a company that has no interest in the content of the website.  I suspect though that Shell and Noble suggested, and maybe are even paying for, the website.  But there’s no such thing as a free website.

In his next post on the Kulluk debacle, Aufrecht looks at the propaganda-PR aspects of how Shell Alaska is trying to spin this fiasco - Shell’s Kulluk Response: Look How Great We Are! 

Aufrecht tartly observes that Shell seems to be trying to portray the grounding of the Kulluk as some sort of victory for their hard-working, risk-taking team.  He proceeds to shred a Tuesday Shell press release:

Shell’s response is like being at the funeral and talking only about how nice the flowers look.

The gist of paragraph 1: We were successful!

The gist of paragraph 2: We did great under terrible conditions 

The gist of paragraph 3: Kulluk was a success and this is merely a learning experience so we can be more successful.

The gist of paragraph 4: This wasn’t about drilling and we’ve got the world’s best working on this. We’re confident!

Sadly, it is all worse than this.

There are now, according the Shell, over 600 people involved in this farce.  Nothing exemplifies its pathetically comic aspects better than this picture the Unified Command has posted on the flickr page they created today, showing an enormous number of people busying themselves with nuttiness at the Unified Command HQ in a pricey convention room at the Marriott Hotel, all wearing what appear to be either life jackets, or vests that mimic them:

Unified Command for the Kulluk response

Is there anything remotely resembling common sense buried somewhere in Shell Alaska’s Arctic drilling project?

Update – Thursday 11:00 am Alaska Time:

A story posted this morning at the Alaska Dispatch confirms that Shell was in a rush to get the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer out of Alaska before January 1st, to avoid millions of dollars in taxes up here:

A move by Shell to avoid millions in Alaska state taxes may have backfired when the oil rig Kulluk ran aground Monday on Kodiak Island. The rig initially went adrift while it was being towed to a shipyard and tax shelter in Seattle. Instead, the vessel found itself literally stuck inside Alaska at the start of the new year.


A Shell spokesman last week confirmed an Unalaska elected official’s claim that the Dec. 21 departure of the Kulluk from Unalaska/Dutch Harbor involved taxation.

City councilor David Gregory said Shell would pay between $6 million and $7 million in state taxes if the Kulluk was still in Alaska on Jan. 1.

Shell’s Curtis Smith said in an email last week that the decision involved financial considerations. The rig had been moored in the Aleutian Islands port following several months on an oil exploration project in the Arctic Ocean.

“We are now planning to sail both vessels to the west coast for seasonal maintenance and inspections. Having said that, it’s fair to say that the current tax structure related to vessels of the type influenced the timing of our departure,” Smith said. “It would have cost Shell multiple millions to keep the rigs here,” he added, though he didn’t have an exact amount.

Gregory said the departure of the Kulluk took money away from local small businesses servicing the rig. He predicted the maritime mishap will prove very costly to the oil company.

“It will cost them more than that $6 million in taxes. Maybe they should have just stayed here,” Gregory said.

The Kulluk is still here, on the rocks. And the Noble Discover is all but impounded in Seward.
Read the rest of this entry →

Thoughts on Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ Attorney – John Henry Browne

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller


I got into blogging to cover the Federal corruption trial of former Alaska State Representative Vic Kohring.  Kohring’s attorney in that October 2007 trial was John Henry Browne.  He is the high-profile Seattle-based attorney now representing U.S. Army Staff Sgt, Robert Bales. The sergeant was charged Friday with the killing of 17 Afghan civilians on the night of March 11-12.

During the Kohring trial, four and a half years ago, I got to meet and know John Henry Browne.  He was fairly well known in the Pacific Northwest for having represented serial killer Ted Bundy, and for having been a key attorney in the overturning of the bizarre Wenatchee Washington sex ring convictions. [see Masoninblue's comment #7]

At the time of the Kohring trial, I was reluctant to come to deep conclusions about Browne.  The premise of my trial blog was this:

Two longtime friends from the Mat-Su Valley with opposing views of the trial and its defendant share their thoughts. Fred James perceives Vic Kohring as a victim of a prosecution gone awry. Philip Munger has been predicting a demise for Kohring for years as the Wasilla anti-government politician attempted to make too many increasingly unconnected ends and motives meet.

The concept was inspired by firedoglake‘s coverage of the Scooter Libby trial, which was an historic approach to trial writing.  I hoped that with Fred and me exchanging differing views, we would cover new ground too.

Others who attended the trial blogged about it too, most notably retired University of Alaska Anchorage public policy professor, Steve Aufrecht.  Today, at his outstanding blog, What Do I Know? Steve has revisited his thoughts on Browne at the time of the Kohring trial:

John Henry Browne, the attorney now representing Robert Bales, the soldier accused of massacring 17 Afghan civilians, spent several weeks in Anchorage in 2007, representing the third state legislator to go on trial for corruption here, Vic Kohring.  I blogged that trial and so I got to watch him in action.  Of the three trials, he was the only attorney who seemed to attract almost as much attention as his client.

I have comments about Browne throughout the Kohring posts, but I’ve pulled out a few here that may give some insight into this attorney.  Or not.

On my first encounter in court October 22, 2007:

John Henry Browne

For me the big unknown was the defense attorney. When I walked in, I saw him from behind and thought he was younger until he turned and faced the gallery. He was wearing what looked like an expensive light grey suit with just a touch of green. His shirt was just barely pink. The prosecutors, in comparison, were in dark, dark grey to black suits with white shirts, except for Mr. Goeke who had a beige shirt. Even Agent Mary Beth Kepner [Thanks, Steve, I was getting tired when I did that] had on a grey suit. And Mr. Browne’s hair also looked expensive – basically brown with what would have been called surfer blond streaks where I grew up near Venice Beach. OK, I know what some of you are thinking. But this is not intended as a fashion evaluation of the attorneys. I do think, however, that the dress does tell us something about people. Browne very definitely pays attention to how he looks. He also has trouble talking without moving. If his arms aren’t moving, or his hands, then his fingers are moving. A few times I could even see the muscles in his back moving through his jacket. And this was just very low key questions to the jury.

His voice is radio quality deep and his intonation is precise, more articulated than most American speakers naturally talk. Perhaps he’s done some acting or had other voice coaching.

When he asked questions of the jurors, or even when he didn’t, he would say, “Good morning” in the same exact tone which sounded warm and interested the first time, but after hearing it repeated precisely many times, it began to sound canned. For two jurors, he said something like, “Your comments were much more extensive than the other jurors” which I thought sounded like calculated flattery, and which caused Prosecutor Botinni [Bottini] to object to the “unnecessary editorial comments” about juror performance. The judge concurred.

He also addressed the court twice, between jurors, with two questions that I thought seemed inappropriate. The first time he wanted to know about jurors who came from outside of Anchorage – who paid for them? (The court pays their airfare and hotel, but they don’t go back for weekends the judge replied.) The second question was whether the jurors came from all of Alaska. The judge explained that they only came from the Anchorage district, which was a large district, stretching from Cordova to the Aleutians. It just seemed to me that these were curiosity items, that I would have written down and checked on later. Or, as the Outside defense attorney, I would have found out before the trial. And being an Outside attorney – the local attorney Wayne Anthony Ross was not there today [and I don't think ever was in court] – he wouldn’t understand the implications of what local talk show hosts the jurors said they listened to.

Overall, his behavior reinforced the impression I’ve gotten in the pretrial press coverage. This is the Seattle attorney who is coming to the boondocks to try a case. If that really is the way he’s thinking, I suspect he’s in for a big surprise.  Judge Sedwick has run very tight, but fair, trials. His excusing of the full time student today is an example of his practical understanding of what makes sense and what doesn’t. The prosecution has done an overwhelming amount of work and have been extremely well prepared. The teams at the previous two trials were one local attorney and one from the DC based Public Integrity Section. These guys do their homework. The pairing for this trial is Joe Botinni[Bottini], who’s been in the Anchorage US Attorney Office for many years, and Edward P. Sullivan from DC. On the other hand, it does seem that the taped evidence is likely to be not as damaging as in the other cases, and that Kohring might appear to have been less calculating than Kott or Anderson in working out ways to get paid. We will see.

By the next day, I’d figured out who Browne reminded me of.  I wrote a post titled, Is John Henry Browne Really Eddie Haskell 50 Years Later?

Eddie Haskell, eh?

I’ve been trying to get in touch with Browne to question him about PFC Bradley Manning’s treatment compared to what he’s come to know about the detention of SSgt. Bales.  Browne has succeeded in getting his client into the news this past week.  He’s already  putting the U.S. Army and the Afghan War on trial:

The lawyer for the Army staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians questioned Tuesday the quality of the evidence against his client and said he planned to travel to Afghanistan to gather his own.

John Henry Browne said he met with Robert Bales for 11 hours over two days at Fort Leavenworth, where his client is being held. He added that there was still a lot he didn’t know about the March 11 shootings.

“I don’t know about the evidence in this case. I don’t know that the government is going to prove much. There’s no forensic evidence. There’s no confessions,” Browne said outside his hotel near the post.

“I’m certainly not saying that we’re not taking responsibility for this in the right way, at the right time. But for now, I’m interested in what the evidence is,” he said. “It’s not like a crime scene in the United States.”

Browne said there were legal, social and political issues linked to the case and how it will be prosecuted. “The war’s on trial. I’m not putting the war on trial,” he said. “I’m not putting the war on trial, but the war is on trial.”

NPR, discussing Bales’ options on Friday:

SOLIS: The defense doesn’t have a lot of roads to travel right now, and so what they’re going to do is blame it on the mental state, which probably has some validity, and blame it on the Army.

BOWMAN: Blame it on the Army for sending Sergeant Bales on four combat tours, which took a toll.

SOLIS: And that’s because of the three prior tours that the suspect had in Iraq, the fact that he had been wounded a couple of times, that he objected to being sent back to Afghanistan for a fourth tour. So I think that this is the type of case which is tailor-made for a lack of mental responsibility defense.

BOWMAN: But military lawyer Neal Puckett points out that many soldiers have served multiple combat tours and suffered from PTSD.

PUCKETT: You can’t totally displace responsibility on to the Army simply because you say well, he has TBI and/or he has PTSD.

BOWMAN: There’s one other defense that may not be an option for Sgt. Bales, that his life was in danger. Neal Puckett defended a Marine accused of shooting civilians at Haditha, Iraq in 2005 after an attack on his squad. The most serious charges were dropped after Puckett argued the Marine felt he was threatened.

Browne was probably sought out by Bales’ family, as Browne works out of a Seattle office, and the trial will be held in the lower Puget Sound area of Ft. Lewis, where Bales’ unit has its home base.  His family have put together a legal defense fund:

Robert Bales’ wife, Karilyn Bales, has started a fund to raise money to help pay his legal costs. Contributions, not tax-deductible, can be sent to the Staff Sergeant Robert Bales Legal Defense Fund, P.O. Box 2774, Seattle, WA 98111.

I’m not sure I totally buy into Bales having been unaccompanied or unassisted in his night-time journeys.  He supposedly left the base, walked to one village, came back, walked to another village and came back a second time – by himself.  Here’s a map I created, superimposing a McClatchy graphic onto my own annotated image from Google Earth:

Alkozai-Najiban Axis

Those distances he would have had to walk, totaling over 7 kilometers, are as the crow flies.  Sgt. Bales appears to be fit, but …….

Justin Raimondo is still questioning the veracity of the lone actor scenario.  And he also feels that the way this is playing out, fiction or not, shows up many flaws in our Afghan end-game:

All of this has led to an outcry in Afghanistan, where the local are saying this was an organized revenge killing rather than Sergeant Psycho on a rampage. Which raises an intriguing question: organized by whom?

It seems to me there are two possibilities:

1) This was the result of a “rogue” group of soldiers acting on their own, motivated by the previous IED attack. Reports that Bales was drinking with a group of other soldiers the night of the massacre conjure images of a late-night venting climaxed by a senseless act of terror.

2) It was a “night raid” gone horribly wrong. This is suggested by the fact that the “official” story of what happened that night limns these night raids to a tee, except for the number of military personnel involved. And Karzai has a point: it is certainly possible Bales went to two residences, killed 16 women and children, and then gathered up the bodies and burned them in the space of a couple of hours, with no assistance from anyone — but how likely is it? About as likely as Bales’s claim not to remember anything of that night.

What is striking is how seamlessly these two scenarios blend into each other: even if this heinous crime was carried out by a “rogue” group of soldiers, how different is it from those night raids where they are acting under orders? The direct threats issued to the villagers, however, points to the possibility that they were acting with the knowledge of at least some higher-ups, who must have authorized the round-up, the use of a translator, and even the participation of the Afghan army.

What is worrying is that the numerous reports coming out of Afghanistan of rampant war crimes committed by “rogue” soldiers – “kill teams” – indicates a complete breakdown of the US chain of command. At the top of the command structure, the grand strategists and theoreticians are constructing elaborate theories of counterinsurgency warfare designed to win over the populace and deny the Taliban a victory. However, by the time “clear, hold, and build” trickles down to the ranks in the field, it becomes “clear, hold, and kill.”

It will be some time before SSgt. Bales goes to trail.  Certainly not this year, if the slowness of the Bradley Manning case progress is any indicator.  Watch for John Henry Browne to do everything he can to keep his client’s case in the news, and to tie any new American military misconduct into his developing narrative against the war:  ”I’m not putting the war on trial, but the war is on trial.”



Alaska Legislator Who Refused TSA Grope to Arrive in Juneau This Morning – by Ferry Boat – Updated

7:16 am in Government, Legislature by EdwardTeller

Alaska state legislator Sharon Cissna (source: AK State Legislature)

After her mastectomy padding showed up in the invasive full-body X-ray scan at Sea-Tac Airport on Sunday, Alaska Representative Sharon Cissna (D – District K Anchorage) refused to go through a highly invasive pat-down.  Unlike some who have refused this insulting procedure, Cissna was allowed to leave the airport.  She had been searched before.  After telling her husband she would never submit to such indignity again, she kept her word.

Apparently, Cissna went from Sea-Tac to British Columbia, where she caught a plane to Prince Rupert, where the Alaska Ferry MV Matanuska was scheduled to dock early in the week, as it worked its way north from Bellingham, Washington to Juneau, Haines and Skagway.

From Prince Rupert, before boarding the ferry, which doesn’t have  wifi, and only intermittent cell phone coverage, Cissna wrote a letter to constituents:

The evening of the 20th of February 2011 started with relief, as I was anxious to get back to the important work of the Alaskan Legislature.  Heading into security after time with the line of passengers, I felt upbeat.  I’d blocked out the horror of three months earlier, but after the pleasant TSA agent checked the ticket and ID, I suddenly found myself directed into scanning by the Seattle Airport’s full-body imaging scan.  The horror began again.  A female agent placed herself blocking my passage.  Scan results would again display that my breast cancer and the resulting scars pointed a TSA finger of irregularity at my chest.  I would require invasive, probing hands of a stranger over my body.

Memories of violation would consume my thoughts again.”

“Being a public servant and elected representative momentarily disappeared.

Facing the agent I began to remember what my husband and I’d decided after the previous intensive physical search.  That I never had to submit to that horror again!  It would be difficult, we agreed, but I had the choice to say no, this twisted policy did not have to be the price of flying to Juneau!”

“So last night, as more and more TSA, airline, airport and police gathered, I became stronger in remembering to fight the submission to a physical hand exam.

I repeatedly said that I would not allow the feeling-up and I would not use the transportation mode that required it.”

“For nearly fifty years I’ve fought for the rights of assault victims, population in which my wonderful Alaska sadly ranks number one, both for men and women who have been abused.  The very last thing an assault victim or molested person can deal with is yet more trauma and the groping of strangers, the hands of government ‘safety’ policy.”

“For these people, as well as myself, I refused to submit.”

Wednesday, the Alaska House of Representatives took a “Sense of  the House” vote in support of Rep. Cissna in a resolution:

“that efficient travel is a cornerstone of our economy and our quality of life especially here in Alaska, and that no one should have to sacrifice their dignity in order to travel.”

The House voted 36-2 to adopt that sentiment. Reps. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, voted “no.” Cissna and Rep. Anna Fairclough, another Eagle River Republican, were absent.

Representatives Lynn and Sadler are the legislature’s most ardent supporters of the most intrusive and ridiculous aspects of our mismanaged, stupid “war on terror.”   Lynn denounced me in a 2004 joint session of the legislature as an enemy of the State.   Read the rest of this entry →