Alaska government approves removal of Kulluk rig from island
ANCHORAGE -- Royal Dutch Shell and the U.S. Coast Guard will attach a main tow line to Shell's grounded oil rig in preparation of removing it from where it crashed on an island off the southern Alaska shore, the company said.
Removing the Kulluk, the rig that ran aground on the uninhabited Sitkalidak Island hours before New Year's Eve, will be the first step in winding down an incident that has reintroduced Shell's $5 billion plan to drill for oil in the waters off Alaska as a target for opponents of Arctic drilling. The accident could also complicate Shell's plans to return to the Arctic when drilling season begins in mid-summer.
"All plans rely on weather and tidal conditions," the recovery team said in a press release.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday that current weather conditions provided "an excellent opportunity" for recovering the Kulluk. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Matt Schofield said the response team was still determining where to take the rig once it was deemed seaworthy.
"They're evaluating, looking at different options as of where to take it," Mr. Schofield said.
More than 600 people have been brought in to help bring the rig off the island. Boom - an absorbent material used in oil cleanup efforts - was being deployed around Kodiak Island to ensure any spilled fuel would not reach nearby salmon fisheries.
Shell said Saturday morning it received a permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to remove the Kulluk. The Coast Guard also late Friday moved emergency response equipment to the area in preparation of moving the rig from the island, said Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler III.
Fourteen ships were en route to the area to help with the recovery, Shell and the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Environmentalists and lawmakers are using the grounding, which came as the rig was heading to Seattle for maintenance, to illustrate that Arctic conditions are too extreme to safely explore for oil. Shell's Arctic program brought the first new offshore drilling in the region for more than two decades and is being closely watched as a bellwether by other oil companies interested in the area.
The U.S. Coast Guard has sent multiple salvage crews to the grounded rig after the weather improved Wednesday. Inspections have shown the rig to be stable, although water damaged its emergency electric generators. There is no evidence of any of the rig's 150,000 gallons of fuel leaking into nearby waters, the U.S. Coast Guard said late Friday.
Shell's Arctic drilling program has been plagued by mishaps nearly from the start. Lingering ice prevented the company from dispatching its two rigs to the region for months. Once in Alaska, one rig used by Shell, Nobel Corp.'s (NE) Discoverer, nearly ran aground in July after becoming unmoored while in port. Equipment failures on the rigs have also been a problem.