You are browsing the archive for Unified Command.

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.

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 →

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 →

Shell Oil Rig Kulluk Being Ground into Razor Blades on Rocky Alaska Beach. Questions Arise.

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Kulluk on the beach 01:01:13

The marine weather forecast seemed good enough for mid or late December, when the oceangoing tug Aiviq began towing the cumbersome giant oil drilling platform Kulluk out of Dutch Harbor on the eve of the Winter Solstice:

The Kulluk left Dutch Harbor, a staging port for Shell, the afternoon of Dec. 21 under tow by the Aiviq, headed to the Seattle area for off-season maintenance. The weather forecast for the next few days was typical, even a bit tame, for winter along the Aleutian chain and into the Gulf of Alaska: Winds of 17 to 35 mph, seas of 7 to 15 feet.

“Toward Kodiak Island, there was nothing of real significance,” said Sam Albanese, a warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “It was a pretty benign forecast.”

But by the afternoon of Dec. 25, the outlook had shifted from a prediction of more gale-force winds to a near storm at sea with winds topping 50 mph, he said.

And that’s what hit the Kulluk and the Aiviq last week.

By Saturday night, the winds were near hurricane force, the Coast Guard said.

Things got worse, as the lines attached from the tug to the rig parted on four occasions, between Thursday evening and Monday night:

As the Kulluk headed to the Lower 48 on Thursday, the tow shackle failed between the drilling rig and its tug — Shell’s Aiviq. A second towline was attached, but later the engines on the Aiviq failed, leaving the two vessels adrift at sea. The 266-foot diameter Kulluk has no propulsion system of its own.

Another ship, the Coast Guard’s 282-foot cutter Alex Haley, was dispatched to reconnect the towline. However, 35-foot seas and 40-mph winds, coupled with the size of the vessels, caused the towline to disconnect, and the Haley retreated to Kodiak for repairs. On Sunday, the Kulluk’s 18-person crew was evacuated.

Then, after dispatching yet another ship — the Prince William Sound-based Alert tug — the Kulluk was reconnected to its tow vessels early Monday. Later Monday morning, the Aiviq tug also re-established its connection to the Kulluk about 19 miles southeast of Kodiak Island, but lost its link later in the day.

By Monday evening, the Coast Guard was planning to tow the Kulluk to safe harbor at Port Hobron on the southeast side of Kodiak Island, as well as deploy several technicians on board the Kulluk to inspect the tow lines on the rig.

As the weather worsened, the Alert tug’s crew, which was struggling to tow the Kulluk on its own, was order to separate from the rig. By 9 p.m., the Kulluk was sitting in the surf at rocky Ocean Bay, its draft having run aground.

Over night, Monday-Tuesday, the worst of the present storm seemed to play out, but there is still a large swell coming onshore at the place of the stranding.

Within two hours of the grounding, the so-called Unified Command, comprising Shell Alaska, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Noble Drilling, held a press notification event at the expanded response headquarters, in Anchorage’s Marriot Hotel.  About 250 people are involved in the Anchorage-based efforts.  In a conference convened Tuesday at 2:00 local time, again at the Anchorage Marriott, it was claimed that over 500 people are currently involved in facets of the response.

As events have unfolded and been made public Tuesday, there have been several responses from the Alaska environmental community, from the head of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Ed Markey, but nothing substantive from Alaska’s U.S. Congressional delegation, who have been totally supportive of Shell’s Arctic drilling venture.

This morning Markey said “the accident revealed that ‘drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment.’”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski made a brief comment:

Read the rest of this entry →