Another Setback For Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans

Feb 13, 2013

Another costly setback for Shell Oil and its efforts to drill in the Arctic Ocean: Shell needs to send its beleaguered oil rigs to Asia for major repairs, instead of to Seattle as planned. KUOW’s John Ryan reports.

The Kulluk under tow in January after running aground near Kodiak, Alaska.
Credit Northwest News Network

Monday night, Shell made a brief announcement: its two floating rigs in Alaska, the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer, would head to Asia after being loaded on board ships known as semi-submersibles.

A semi-submersible is a giant ship, often longer than two football fields, that can be partially flooded and sunk until another ship can be floated over it. Then the semisubmersible is pumped out and raised until it’s got the other ship piggybacking on its deck.

It’s a very expensive way to transport an oil rig compared to pulling it with a tugboat. It’s also safer if the oil rig is badly damaged.

The Kulluk ran aground in a New Year’s eve storm in the Gulf of Alaska. It was being towed to Seattle. In the month and a half since the grounding, Shell and the U.S. Coast Guard have said very little about how badly the Kulluk was damaged.

Monday’s announcement that the two oil rigs need to go to drydocks in Asia suggests serious damage to both rigs.

The news puts a big dent in Shell’s chances of drilling for oil in the Arctic this year. Shell only has permission to drill in the brief Arctic summer.

Shell had planned to begin drilling off Alaska’s north coast last summer. But a series of accidents and construction delays wrecked those plans.

What held Shell up most of all was a barge called the Arctic Challenger.

Late Monday night, the Arctic Challenger headed out of the Port of Bellingham for a next round of testing and possible federal approval.

Interior Department officials say the test has not been scheduled. The Coast Guard says Shell has the deepwater testing site off of Samish Island reserved for the next week and a half. I’m John Ryan in Seattle.

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