Royal Dutch Shell’s final decision on drilling in the Alaska Arctic is pending, while both drilling rigs used for last year’s exploration season head for Asia, for further inspection and repairs.
In a statement issued Feb. 11, Shell said that both rigs would be towed to Asia for this work.
The Kulluk, now anchored offshore of Kodiak Island is to be moved back to Dutch Harbor and then towed to a shipyard in Asia with a suitable dry dock, said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith. The company was not specific as to where in Asia the Kulluk was headed. The Kulluk was being towed from Dutch Harbor to Seattle during stormy winter weather in December when its towlines were lost several times and the rig grounded just off of Sitkalidak Island south of Kodiak on New Year’s Eve. It has since been refloated and has been undergoing evaluations while anchored off Kodiak Island.
The Noble Discoverer encountered problems back in July, dragging its anchor and nearly grounding at Dutch Harbor before the start of the drilling season. The Noble Discoverer is to be towed from Seward, Alaska to a shipyard in Korea.
“The outcome of further inspections for both rigs will determine the shipyard schedule and timing of their return to service,” Smith said.
Both incidents have prompted much concern in fisheries and environmental circles, and a call for more caution on the part of the federal government in allowing offshore Alaska oil and gas drilling to proceed.
Mike LeVine, speaking for Oceana, said bluntly that the federal government “should not let Shell back in the Arctic Ocean. We need a full, fair and public reevaluation of how our government let a demonstrably unprepared company operate in one of the harshest and most difficult places in the world.
“We have asked that the federal government suspend all activities in the Arctic until the companies can prove they can operate safely and without harming the health of our oceans.”
Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer and Arctic program director of The Wilderness Society, said Shell should re-evaluate whether it makes sense to continue pouring money into this complex and difficult drilling effort. Epstein noted that both rigs and their associated equipment had multiple, serious problems operating in the Alaska arctic in 2012, including marine transport.