No Fuel Spill Reported at Site of Kulluk Grounding

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Update from the Kulluk Tow Incident Unified Command: 

“A team of six salvage experts boarded the grounded drilling unit Kulluk earlier today to conduct a structural assessment to be used to finalize salvage plans, currently being developed by the Kulluk Tow Incident Unified Command.

The six-member team was lowered to the Kulluk by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at about 10:30 this morning. The assessment lasted about three hours. A helicopter safely hoisted the team from the drilling unit at about 1:30 p.m. The Coast Guard helicopter and crew also delivered a state-owned emergency towing system to the Kulluk, which will be used during salvage operations.”

As of early this morning the grounded Shell Exploration drilling rig Kulluk is reported as remaining stable with no oil spill pollution observed. That word from the Unified Command office at 6:50 this morning. It echoes the latest situation reports from the Command, made up of industry, state, federal and local agencies. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s situation report concurs.

The floating, mobile drill rig Kulluk is called a “conical drilling unit,” or CDU. It was being towed from Unalaska back to Seattle when its tug experienced engine problems southwest of Kodiak on Friday. The Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and two other private ships responded to assist, but after a series of tow lines snapped, the Kulluk went aground Monday night on Sitkalidak Island, just off the southeast quarter of Kodiak Island. The exact location is between the north end of Ocean Bay and Partition Cove. (Lat 57⁰ 5′ 28.099N, Long 153⁰ 6′ 23.546W)

Commander Shane Montoya, the federal on-scene coordinator, said during a briefing Tuesday the tow ships tried to direct the Kulluk to a position that might minimize the impact to the environment and damage to the rig.

The Kulluk carries 136,240-gallons of diesel fuel and over 10,000 gallons of various lubes and oils. Shell’s Susan Childs says the Kulluk’s fuel tanks are encased in very heavy steel and located at the center of the rig.

The DEC’s Allen Wein says crews are ready to respond if any fuel is spilled.

Oil spill response equipment was staged on the Kodiak waterfront yesterday. Crews are waiting for favorable weather conditions to fly salvage personnel out to the Kulluk. There is a gale warning in the marine weather forecast through tonight, with seas to 15 feet.

Childs says it may take weeks or months to determine the sequence of mishaps that led to the grounding.

The area of the grounding is in critical habitat for endangered sea lions and the Kittlitz’s Murrelet, and near a number of salmon streams.

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