In the latest setback to Shell’s Arctic drilling plans for this summer, the company says it’s sending both of its drilling rigs to Asia for dry dock repairs. The company says the Noble Discoverer needs an engine overhaul and the Kulluk needs major repairs to its internal electrical systems and hull after running aground near Kodiak on New Year’s Eve. Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith says the Kulluk was damaged inside when seawater came through open hatches, and that the hull was “compromised” in some areas.
“We felt that dry dock in Asia was the best place to really get a good look at the underside of the hull, make a better analysis about the next steps and a timeline for the next steps,” Smith said.
Smith says the company is planning to tow the Kulluk to Dutch Harbor, and then put the rig on a larger heavy lift vessel for the rest of the trip to Asia. That vessel will pull up next to the Kulluk and dip down into the water to scoop the drill rig up onto its deck.
“So imagine if somebody was floating on the surface of a swimming pool and you went underneath them and were taller than them, of course, and you went underneath them and stood up, at that point they would be on your shoulders or on top of you, and that’s sort of what happens in this dry tow scenario,” Smith said.
For the trip to Dutch Harbor, the Kulluk will be towed by three tugs. Only one tug was towing it during the reverse trip, when its towline parted in rough seas. Smith says the fuel onboard won’t be removed until Dutch Harbor. That troubles environmental activist Rick Steiner. He says he doesn’t understand why the Kulluk’s substantial fuel load hasn’t already been offloaded.
“It’s clearly unacceptable that they would be willing to tow the Kulluk with the 150,000 gallons of fuel on board, along the Alaska Peninsula through Unimak pass over to Dutch Harbor with any kind of a risk of the vessel breaking loose again and grounding or foundering and sinking. They should clearly get the fuel off now, before they take it out of Kiliuda Bay,” Steiner said.
Steiner is also concerned that Shell and the Unified Command haven’t released more information on the condition of the Kulluk. Shell says it hopes the Coast Guard will approve its tow plan in a few days and expects it could have the vessel in Dutch Harbor in about two weeks. He says the company doesn’t know yet how this will affect the 2013 drilling season in the Arctic.
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