Shell oil rigs leave the Arctic, skip Seattle

Shell's Noble Discoverer drill rig leaving Unalaska Monday afternoon. (Photo by John Ryan, KUCB - Unalaska)
Shell’s Noble Discoverer drill rig leaving Unalaska Monday afternoon. (Photo by John Ryan, KUCB – Unalaska)

Shell’s two Arctic oil rigs pulled into Unalaska’s Dutch Harbor on Sunday, some 1,100 miles south of the company’s drilling site in the Chukchi Sea.

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The Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer headed south from the Chukchi shortly after Shell abandoned its quest for Arctic Ocean oil after drilling one well this summer.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino said the rigs are refueling and making crew changes during their brief stops in Dutch Harbor.

The Noble Discoverer steamed out of Dutch Harbor under its own power Monday afternoon; the Polar Pioneer remained anchored on the far side of Hog Island in Unalaska Bay.

Before this summer’s unsuccessful drilling season, Shell contracted with Seattle’s Foss Maritime to store the rigs at the Port of Seattle in the off-season.

While Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino said the rigs’ final destinations are still being determined, they will not be returning to Seattle.

The Port of Seattle welcomed Shell’s rigs this spring, but the city did not.

Protesters in kayaks as well as city and state officials tried to block Shell from parking at the Port. Last month, a city hearing examiner overturned the mayor of Seattle’s attempt to stop the Port from hosting Shell.

On Monday, King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North ruled against environmental groups that had sued the Port of Seattle over its plan to house the oil rigs. They opposed the project because of its twin risks of spilling oil in the remote Arctic Ocean and fueling runaway global climate change.

While Shell no longer faces legal obstacles to bringing its rigs to Seattle, the company is sending them to other ports in Washington state. The Noble Discoverer is headed to the Port of Everett to offload equipment and supplies. Baldino said the Polar Pioneer, towed by the Ocean Wind and Ocean Wave tugboats, will head to the Port of Port Angeles.

When a single tug towed Shell’s Kulluk oil rig from Dutch Harbor to Everett in 2012, the rig broke free during a winter storm in the Gulf of Alaska. The U.S. Coast Guard had to rescue the Kulluk’s crew by helicopter before the rig ran aground off Kodiak Island. The Kulluk wound up in a scrapyard in Asia.

“We’ve incorporated many, many lessons from our 2012 program,” Baldino said. “Safety is our first priority.”

Baldino said she had no new information to provide on the fate of the 400 employees who worked on the Arctic drilling project in Anchorage. As many as 3,000 Shell contractors were doing fieldwork on the project at any given time this summer.

Shell spent more than $8 billion and nearly a decade looking for oil in the Chukchi Sea, including $1.4 billion this year alone. The company is expected to provide more information on the financial implications of the failed venture when it discusses its third quarter financial results later this month.