Shell recaptures Arctic drilling barge Kulluk in stormy seas
ANCHORAGE -- Royal Dutch Shell said an Arctic drilling barge, headed to Seattle for maintenance, was safely recovered yesterday after being set adrift during a storm in the Gulf of Alaska.
Crew of the Shell-owned barge, Kulluk, were evacuated last night as a precaution after towing resumed, said Curtis Smith, an Alaska-based Shell spokesman, in a telephone interview. The offshore tug Aiviq recovered the Kulluk.
Shell has invested $4.5 billion in offshore leases and equipment and fought at least 50 lawsuits from environmental groups to begin drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas this year, the first wells in U.S. Arctic waters in about 20 years. The Kulluk was in need of maintenance after starting a well in the Beaufort Sea, Smith said.
The other Arctic drilling vessel used by Shell this year, the Noble Discoverer owned by Noble Corp., was held by the Coast Guard in Seward, Alaska, in November after it lost propulsion and inspectors found safety discrepancies. That ship will be towed to Seattle for repairs, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
Sea ice ended Arctic drilling earlier this year. Shell expects to resume drilling once sea ice withdraws next year, Smith said. This year’s drilling plans were crimped by damage to a dome designed to capture any underwater spill.
The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a cutter and rescue helicopters Dec. 28 after the Aiviq reported its tow line to the Kulluk had parted in heavy seas, the Coast Guard said in a statement. Aiviq recaptured the barge, then went adrift itself when all four diesel engines quit because of contaminated fuel, Smith said.
The vessels were at risk of running aground, according to the Coast Guard.
Aiviq’s crew restored all engines yesterday after two Coast Guard helicopters delivered replacement fuel injectors, Smith said. The parts weighed more than a ton and were delivered in winds of 30 mph and seas of 20 ft, the Coast Guard said in a statement.
Winds in the area today are 20 miles an hour to 40 miles an hour, Smith said.
A second offshore tug, the Nanuq, has joined the 360-foot (110-meter) Aiviq in towing the barge south until winds subside, Smith said.