Oil Drilling Rig Runs Aground In Gulf Of Alaska

Jan 1, 2013
Originally published on January 2, 2013 6:44 am

An oil drilling rig holding more than 150,000 gallons of diesel, lubricating oil, and hydraulic fluid has run aground near Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska, after it was being towed during a storm. The crew was evacuated before the rig was incapacitated.

"The rig ran aground in a storm, with waves up to 35 feet and wind to 70 miles per hour," reports Jeff Brady, on NPR's Newscast. The Shell Oil rig is "about 250 miles south of Anchorage," Jeff says.

Update at 6:13 p.m. ET. No Sign of a Leak.

NPR's Howard Berkes reports that at a news briefing that began at 6 p.m. ET, officials said flyovers by two helicopters spotted no breach in the Kulluk's hull, and no sign of a leak. The rig seemed stable, they said.

Update at 5:53 p.m. ET. Details on the Kulluk.

The Kulluk had finished its part in Shell's oil exploration program and "was en route to winter harbor," Kelly op de Weegh, who handles media relations for Shell Oil, tells our colleague Howard Berkes, who reports on the grounding for today's All Things Considered.

That means there's no crude oil aboard. There is no certainty yet over whether the vessel could still pose a threat to wildlife in the gulf. Aircraft that flew over the craft yesterday reported no sign of a sheen that would betray an oil or fuel leak.

Sill, Lois Epstein, who heads the Wilderness Society's Arctic program, tells Howard, "the reality is that nature always wins in Alaska and this incident clearly demonstrates that."

Update at 11:43 a.m. ET. New data on rig's contents, and the tow.

While early reports put the total amount of combined fluids aboard the rig at around 160,000 gallons, the group overseeing the Kulluk grounding said this morning that the number is 151,000 gallons — 139,000 gallons of ultra low sulfur diesel, along with 12,000 gallons of lubricating oil and hydraulic fluid used in the rig's drilling equipment.

The agency also confirms that while the rig broke away from its tow lines last week, the tug that was towing the rig through dangerous seas Monday disconnected the line for the safety of the towing vessel's crew.

"The Coast Guard said the Kulluk grounded around 9 p.m. Monday on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island in Ocean Bay," reports Alaska's KTUU Channel 2. Sitkalidak is a small island that lies just south of Kodiak Island.

It will likely be several hours before the Coast Guard can estimate the extent of the damage — the agency will send aircraft to survey the area at first light Tuesday.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC's Kulluk rig is built especially for the Alaskan gulf, as Darci Sinclair of Shell tells Jeff.

"It's a round ship and the diesel fuel tanks are located at the center, encased in very heavy steel," Sinclair says. "But it's really too soon to know if there was any damage to the ship."

The rig has been in trouble since Thursday, when the ship towing it suffered an engine failure; in a separate incident, a tow line snapped, as Alaska Public Radio reports. One day later, a "unified command" group was assembled, made up of members of the Coast Guard and representatives of the state, tribal, and federal governments.

The rig's 18 crew members were taken off the vessel Saturday; the situation deteriorated on New Year's Eve, as a powerful storm moved into the area.

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