Drilling Rig Safely in Destination Harbor
Shell's Kulluk rig had been grounded on rocks near Kodiak
ANCHORAGE - The Shell drilling rig Kulluk is finally off the rocks and in deeper water after a tense week of being grounded near Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak for almost a week.
Over the past week, about 700 people have been working on the response. Their main priorities were moving the Kulluk from the rocks it was grounded on and making sure they were prepared for a spill or leak since the vessel carried over 150,000 barrels of diesel fuel and lubricants.
On Sunday at about 4 p.m., the crews attached a line from the Aivik, the Kulluk's towing rig. Incident Commander and Shell Operations Manager Sean Churchfield explained how they got it off. "We applied tension on the line -- initially to ensure we didn't damage it through the night. As the high water approached, the salvage crew increased the tension on the line... and the Kulluk came of reasonably easy."
The U. S. Coast Guard's Captain Paul Mehler said there was a sense of relief once the rig was free, "but recognizing we have a lot more work to do," he said.
From there, crews inspected the rig to see if it was safe to travel, then started on the 30-mile journey. The Aivik towed the rig, but three other tug vessels traveled with the fleet, including the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley and two spill response vessels, and followed the rig. They made the journey slowly, at about 4 miles per hour and arrived at 10 a.m. Monday morning. They lowered their anchor just past noon.
In addition to all the ships traveling with the fleet, there were more tugs and spill response vessels standing by, ready in case of a fuel leak or tug engine failure.
Now crews can start assessing the damage to the rig. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said it will now start focusing on some debris from the Kulluk. This includes lifeboats washed ashore.
What this whole incident means for drilling in the waters of the Arctic is yet to be seen. In press conferences over the past few days, Shell representatives said they will not answer questions about the future of their drilling program until they know more about the condition of the Kulluk.