The US Coast Guard has ordered a formal marine casualty investigation into the grounding of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling rig Kulluk off of an uninhabited island near Kodiak in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
A formal marine casualty investigation is convened when a vessel casualty has considerable regional significance, may indicate vessel class problems, or is the best means to assess technical issues that may have contributed to the incident.
Coast Guard officials said Jan. 8 that the Coast Guard would lead the investigation. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the National Transportation Safety Board, as technical advisers, will participate.
The investigation will probe every aspect of the incident, including any evidence that any failure of material was involved or contributed to the incident or whether there is evidence of misconduct, inattention, negligence or willful violation of law.
The investigation will evaluate also several factors associated with the Kulluk and its support vessels, to determine the cause of the incident.
The Coast Guard said the investigation likely would take several months to complete due to the extent and depth of its inquiry. Findings of the investigation will position the Coast Guard to take appropriate remedial action to address factors that contributed to the incident, officials said.
The announcement came as the Kulluk, which ran aground on Dec. 31, remained safely anchored at Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak Island. A damage estimate is underway.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell praised the several hundred people who worked to refloat the Kulluk and get it to safe harbor. Parnell said the grounding incident was unfortunate but that many wells have been safely drilled in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf, and that “development of offshore oil production is critical to our energy future.”
The Interior Department has announced plans for a high-level assessment of the 2012 offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas to review practices and identify challenges as well as lessons learned. It will focus special attention to challenges that Shell encountered in certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger, the deployment of its containment dome, and operational issues associated with its two drilling rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk.
Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel at the environmental organization Oceana, applauded the investigation.
“The government must reassess its commitment to exploration in difficult places like the Arctic and how it makes decisions about our ocean resources,” LeVine said.