Kulluk Drillship Still Aground off Alaska Coast

B. McPherson

The Shell Oil Arctic drillship Kulluk, remains aground on the shore of a small Alaskan island. The conical drilling platform grounded on shore December 31 after being set adrift by its tow ship which suffered engine failure at about the same time. Alaskan storms are fierce this time of year and 50 foot  swells made towing the drillship too dangerous. All personnel remaining on the vessel were removed safely.

The Kulluk was being moved from Alaskan waters to Washington State for the winter season. There are two contrasting stories about why the ship was being towed so late in the season. One version states that it was being moved for repairs and refurbishment, the other is that Shell Oil was seeking to avoid a $7 million tax that would have come into effect if the vessel remained in state territory after January 1st. In any event, the vessel remains in Alaskan waters and costs for the salvage operation will mount quickly. Approximately 600 people are currently involved in the salvage work.

Local residents on Sitkalidak Island are hoping for an outcome that leaves their beaches free of the Kulluk’s cargo. To help stabilize the conical shaped platform, 150 000 gallons of diesel fuel and oil had been pumped into its tanks. Earlier reports stated that the water tight hatches had been breached.

While the official plan which hasn’t cleared Coast Guard approval, is to tow the wreck to a safer location and reassess whether it can continue south to Seattle. Others, experienced in salvage operations in the area beg to disagree.

 "I'd really be shocked if this thing is so lightly aground and so lightly damaged that they can just go pull this thing off right away," said Magone, president of Magone Marine, in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Dutch Harbor. CTV News

Shell Oil is also in trouble over their other Arctic drillship, Noble Discoverer, which is undergoing scrutiny for safety and pollution violations in Alaska waters. According to a CBS report, when the Coast Guard sent criminal investigators to the ship, crew had been provided with lawyers and refused to speak with the investigators.

This situation underlines the dangers of transporting and drilling for oil in Arctic waters. A relatively small spill like that of the Exxon Valdes over 20 years ago in Alaskan waters continues to foul beaches.

Currently, many in British Columbia are protesting plans to bring hundreds of oil tankers to the coast to transport oil to Asia. Combined with the very active earthquake zones and very real threat of tsunamis, fouling of the coastline will be inevitable if plans for expansion of pipelines are allowed.

Storms + Earthquakes + Tsunamis + Oil Tankers = Ruined Coastline

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