Officials Prepare Response to Grounded Kulluk


Jay Barrett/KMXT
The grounded Shell Exploration drilling rig Kulluk appears to be withstanding the elements as it sits grounded on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak. Officials from the unified command say it has remained stable on the sand and gravel beach, and no fuel spill has been observed.

The Kulluk is a massive drilling unit, designed specifically for operations in Arctic waters. With a diameter of 266-feet and a draft of 41 feet, it can almost be described as a floating island with a drilling platform atop it
It was being towed from Unalaska back to Seattle after spending part of the summer in the Beaufort Sea, exploring for oil and gas. When its tug, the Aiviq, experienced engine problems in high seas southwest of Kodiak Island on Friday, the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and two other private ships, the Nanuq and the Guardsman, responded. At various times during the four-day storm, hurricane-force winds snapped the tow lines from all four ships, eventually leading to the Kulluk’s grounding on New Year’s Eve.

Commander Shane Montoya, the federal on-scene coordinator, said during a briefing on New Year’s Day the tow ships tried to direct the Kulluk to a position that might minimize the impact to the environment and damage to the rig.

— (Kulluk 1 27 sec “They were just trying to maintain … when it did go aground.”)

The Kulluk carries 136,240-gallons of diesel fuel and over 10,000 gallons of various lubes and oils. No “drilling mud” is reported to be on board.
The area of the grounding on Sitkalidak (sitka leed’ick) Island is described as critical habitat for endangered Steller sea lions and the Kittlitz’s Murrelet, and is near a number of salmon streams. Steven Russell of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says the Unified Command will keep a close eye on the area for several months.

— (Kulluk 2b 25 sec “Potential impacts to wildlife … they may have to this area.”)

Oil spill response equipment from Alaska Chadux (shadow) Corporation was staged on the Kodiak waterfront in preparation for transfer the 75 miles to nearby Old Harbor. Shell’s Shawn Churchfield says salvage crews are ready to fly out to the Kulluk pending favorable weather.

— (Kulluk 3 41 sec “The unified command’s plan … the situation under control.”)

However, Shell’s Susan Childs says it may take weeks or months to determine the sequence of mishaps that led to the grounding.

In Kodiak, I’m Jay Barrett.

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