Monday, April 20, 2015

"Polar Pioneer Six"

Whoa! This sight anchored in the harbor, greeted residents of Port Angeles, Washington on Friday morning, April 17th!

The heavy lift vessel Blue Marlin entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca around midnight Thursday the 16th, dry towing the Modular Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) Polar Pioneer, shadowed by the Greenpeace Esperanza.

Arriving just off Ediz Hook, the tow was met by a pilot vessel, two Foss tugs, two Coast Guard escorts.

And once inside the Hook, a gaggle of activists, who prefer to be known as "kayaktivests." 

With the assistance of Foss tractors Lindsey and Andrew, the Blue Marlin was positioned in the anchorage area just after 7:00 a.m. local.

Greenpeace Esperanza peeled off from the convoy, and is now alongside in Victoria, just inside the Ogden Point Breakwater.

And I drove over to Port Angeles, arriving just after 10:00 a.m.

Her location inside Ediz Hook has multiple public locations for shooting that "Money Shot!"

I was gob-smocked! I've never seen such a massive testament to design and engineering. It wasn't until some kayaks approached - under the watchful eye of a Coast Guard vessel - do you begin to grasp the size of this MODU.

From the water line to the tippy-top of the weather enclosed derrick, is 355 feet (108 m.)

This is like having the 28 story (354' -108 m) UBS Tower, located in Nashville, planted in the Bight of Ediz Hook!

And renders the Polar Pioneer / Blue Marlin combination the tallest structure on the Olympic Peninsula!

"This MODU is rated to drill in water depths of up to 1,600 ft. The unit is rated to achieve a maximum total drilling depth of approximately 25,000 ft. and can accommodate about 100 crew members. Station keeping is achieved via a conventional mooring system, read: anchors. 

"Transocean Polar Pioneer is one of just a handful of rigs in the world to have an Acknowledgement of Compliance certification (AOC) from the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA). This tough-to-obtain certification allows the rig to work in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, a closed market due to harsh conditions and extremely stringent regulations around offshore facility specifications and technical qualifications. 

"Historically this has translated into a premium dayrate (in excess of US$600,000 /day) for this rig relative to rigs of similar specifications working in other global markets." (From Oilpro)

Polar Pioneer owned by a company familiar to us, Transocean. You remember Transocean's Deepwater Horizon, which blew up five years ago today (April 20), in 2010, devastating the Gulf of Mexico.


Royal Dutch Shell, following a reckless and humiliating exodus from Alaska in December, 2012, had to pick up the pieces and rethink what it takes to operate in Alaska and the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the Arctic.

As we reported in "Shell's Shattered Ships," the Conical Drill Rig Kulluk was transported to Singapore following her grounding near Kodiak Alaska, where she languished until 2014, when she was dry towed to  Zhoushan, China, for scrapping.

And her backup drill ship Nobel Discoverer was transported from Seward to Korea for repairs, after being declared unseaworthy by the US Coast Guard.

The findings of the US Coast Guard in summarizing the catastopic departure of Shell from Alaska included such observations:

Last year, Shell announced that a revitalized fleet consisting the Nobel Discoverer, backed up by the Kulluks replacement, Transocean Polar Pioneer and tug Aiviq, would lead an expedition back to the Chukchi Sea, picking up where they left off in 2012.

An announcement that did not escape the ears of Greenpeace and dozens of other groups who want to protect the Arctic from any incursion — especially offshore oil development.

And so it was when earlier this year, Dockwise Blue Marlin was hired by Shell to transport the Transocean Polar Pioneer from Brunei Bay on the northwestern coast of Borneo island, in Brunei and Malaysia, to Seattle for outfitting and thence to the Chukchi Sea.

Following an anxious search, the Greenpeace Esperanza, with 35 souls aboard, tracked down the tow, shadowing her across ~5,000 miles of open Pacific.

The Polar Pioneer will be off-loaded in Port Angeles, releasing the Blue Marlin. The drill unit will be prepped and inspected to be wet towed to Terminal 5 in Seattle, Shell's new Southern Base.

The Nobel Discoverer, under contract with Shell through at least 2016, is or should be departing Singapore, eta Terminal 5 unknown.

And the "infamous Aiviq" is already along side at Terminal 5.


Introducing Miriam Friedrich (left) and Zoe Buckley Lennox, waving from the latest Greenpeace camp-out aboard the Polar Pioneer.

Last Monday (April 6th), Greenpeace made her move. Six crew, heavily armed — with climbing gear — made their way by inflatables to the Blue Marlin, and  rappelled aboard the Polar Pioneer, several hundred miles north of Hawaii.

If you are into technical climbing, this article, published on the Rope Gorilla web site explains, with a series of breathtaking photos, "How They Did It."

In this clip, Zoe gives us a tour around the encampment. While hard to hear over wind noise, at 3:25 Zoe points out another camp, set up on the deck by crew of Blue Marlin, to keep "an eye on us." She notes the crew of the Blue Marlin has given them "thumbs up."

This clip shows how Camp Polar Pioneer was resupplied with essentials, such as toilet paper and radio batteries.

With deteriorating weather conditions, the group left the Polar Pioneer on Saturday April 11th. But they accomplished what they set out to, let the world know that Shell was on the move, and that conservationists and activists where determined to impede them at every move.

A small group of protestors greeted the Blue Marlin upon her arrival in Port Angeles and staged their protest without incident. And more protests are scheduled for the anticipated arrival of the Polar Pioneer when she is wet towed to Seattle Terminal 5 in the next week or so.

For obvious reasons, Shell isn't exactly publishing a "Schedule of Public Appearances by the Polar Pioneer."


President Obama's Administration recently released a map of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, delineating no drilling areas.

According to a report filed by the Houston Chronicle, "Shell is aiming to drill up to six wells on separate lease blocks encompassing its Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea, with work unfolding over several years. It plans to put two rigs to work at the same time drilling separate wells, allowing it to maximize the short window between the time sea ice retreats and begins encroaching again.

"The tactic also means a second rig will be relatively close by - rather than a seven-day trek away in Dutch Harbor, Alaska - in case it is needed to drill a relief well in an emergency. Shell also says in the plan that it is adding support vehicles and oil spill response equipment. These adjustments have been made in direct response to Shell's experiences during the 2012 season.

"These assurances made despite the fact that last December, in an eight count felony complaint against Shell's Arctic Drilling Contractor, Nobel Drilling was slapped with a US$12M (€9.7M) fine.

"Having been found guilty of a series of pollution blunders and even cover-ups, Noble must pay a rather impressive fine, which includes community service payments." (Source: Houston Chronicle.)

The complaint is worth reading. It's only a few pages long. It may give you more than the "once over incorrectly" dished out by Fox and demonstrates a caviler attitude about operating in an area so sensitive to intrusion by man, and explains why not just Greenpeace, but many other environmental groups are planning to play havoc with Shell's second expedition to the Arctic.

Conversation Primer

Given that this week marks the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and given Shell's miserable performance in 2012, how do you feel about Shell's incursion into the pristine Arctic Region, already stressed by Climate Change?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Petulant Bertha and Her Well-Behaved Sisters!

Into Daylight Saving Time, welders working through the night, attaching lifting rings to components of Bertha, the besmirched Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), stuck for more than a year beneath the Streets of Seattle.

This is an exact replication of the “rescue” of “Excalibore,” Canadian National’s Tunnel Boring Machine that broke down under an oil refinery in Sarnia Ontario in 1993. Only “Excalibore” was less than one/half the diameter of “Bertha.”

“Excalibore” suffered major seal damage, which resulted in a nine month delay in tunnel completion.

Bertha just completed boring into the rescue pit, where a gaggle of workers will dismantle the Cutterhead, returning it to the surface for repairs. And so far, she is more than 18 months behind schedule. The original Timeline projection for completion of boring reflected September 2014.

Work began on Friday to attach lifting eyes to Bertha for extracting the machine from the rescue pit.

I’ve compiled a series of YouTube clips, that bring us up to date.

Remember to click on the "maximize" button to view the YouTube video in full screen.

•  Bertha Tunnels Toward Repairs. As Bertha’s Cutterhead chews through the concrete piling of the rescue pit, spoils are shuttled by conveyor belts the length of the tunnel, across former Alaskan Way to Pier 47.

Here the spoils are loaded onto a barge, to be delivered by Foss Maritime, for disposal in a former borrow pit located at Mats Mats Bay.

•  Bertha Reaches Daylight, February 19, 2015. A final exciting moment as Bertha gnaws into the rescue pit. In preparation for the break through, a hydraulic pick chiseled out a notch to create a clean entrance into the pit. One is struck by the slow speed of the Cutterhead! Remember, it stands ~5 stories high and weighs ~900 tons, driven by 24 dc motors!

•  Bertha Pushes into the Rescue Pit. Time lapse of Bertha positioning herself on the rescue cradle. Notice the articulated joint on Bertha, just inside the pit. This facilitates pin point steering of the TBM. guided by GPS and Laser measurements. (Thanks, WSDOT!)

•  Chris Dixon, spokesman for Seattle Tunnel Partners, explains the process of retrieving and repairing Bertha.

•  Building a Super Crane. As we’ve just witnessed in the animation clip, a large lifting device will be used to disassemble Bertha’s business end, laying the various segments out for repair. Such devices are “purpose built” for the job at hand. This Mammoet crane has a lifting capacity of 2,200 tons. You may recall the Cutterhead weighs in at nearly 900 tons.

I’ve circled the WSDOT camera that gives us this view of the lifting device.

The “Mammoet” logo was not added until the crane had been in place for a few days. I was unable to capture the individual applying the logo to the frame!

In preparing for the upcoming repairs, a brand new seal assembly was manufactured in Japan and shipped to Seattle last fall.

In addition, boxes of parts and upgrades to TBM components have been stored in a nearby warehouse.

While Bertha has been displaying her temper tantrum, Seattle's Sound Transit TBM's have been busy in the North End of Seattle, burrowing rapid transit tunnels, including a dig beneath the Lake Washington Ship Canal, with a striking absence of headlines!

Twin tunnels, more than 11,000 ft (3.35 km) in length, have been completed without a hiccup. Here is a time lapse walk from Montlake (University of Washington "UW" Station) through the tunnel to the Capitol Hill Station.

“The two TBMs that are digging from UW to Capitol Hill were named Togo and Balto after famous Huskies - the four-legged kind. "Togo" and "Balto" were canine heroes of a grueling sled dog relay to deliver medicine 674 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska during a diphtheria outbreak in 1925. This amazing journey is commemorated each year with the Iditarod sled dog race. 

“As they traveled south, Togo and Balto reached depths of up to 300 feet underground and had to withstand up to almost five times normal air pressure!” (From Sound Transit) 

In addition, TBM "Brenda" is boring 4.3 miles north of the University of Washington Station to Northgate Mall.