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Shells attempts to explore for oil in the Arctic has been hit by delays and problems since the start, and even after the drilling season has finished things refuse to pass smoothly.
Shell (NYSE:RDS.B) used the Kulluk conical drilling rig to bore the first half of an exploratory well in the Beaufort Sea in Alaska, and then began towing it back to a safe harbour in Seattle where it would receive basic maintenance. Little did they know of the nightmare that would ensue.
Trouble first began on Thursday when the tow cable linking the rig to the two tug boats snapped leaving the rig to drift on the ocean. Although difficult to achieve, a new cable was eventually reconnected allowing the journey to get underway again.
Progress was quickly halted as one of the tug boats, the Aiviq, experienced multiple engine failures, as both rig and boat were set adrift, the coast guard safely evacuated all 18 crew members from the rig and transported equipment via helicopter to make the necessary repairs to the ship’s engine.
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The coast guard also sent the Cutter Alex Haley to run a low line to the Kulluk and keep it stable, however the line got caught in one of the Haley’s propellers, damaging the ship and forcing it back to port.
With the tug boat operational and the tow line in place the whole procession began its slow sail down the coast to Seattle. On Sunday, about 20 miles south of Kodiak Island, the boats were assailed by severe weather, including 12-20 foot swells and over 70 mile an hour gusts of wind. Needless to say that the new tow line was unable to withstand the strain and separated by Sunday afternoon., once again leaving the rig to float around on its own.
Shell has stated that it is currently “evaluating all options for reconnecting with the Kulluk.”
Mike LeVine, senior counsel with Oceana, praised the fact that it all occurred near to a coast guard station in Alaska, admitting that, “if this had happened in the Arctic Ocean, Shell could have been on its own, 1,000 miles from the help it needed. The rough conditions that prevented a rescue today could be compounded by darkness and ice in the Arctic.”
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com