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.