Thursday, January 3, 2013

Drama on the High Seas: Kulluk

So the question becomes "how did  the Conical Drilling Unit (CDU) Kulluk end up on the beach of a lonely Alaskan island - Sitkalidak Island - in the middle of no-where?"

The Kulluk was built for Beaudrill Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of Gulf, by Mitsui of Japan, in 1983.

The Kulluk uses a 12-point mooring system, pre-laid by anchor handling vessels (AHTS) before the rig arrives. Each 20-ton anchor connects to the rig by a 3,100- foot combination chain/cable line, which includes a submerged mooring buoy that helps keep the line free from the ocean floor.

Next to the buoy is a Rig Anchor Release (RAR) system for remotely detaching the rig from the pre-laid anchor. This innovative system designed for Shell’s Alaska exploration greatly speeds up unmooring and remooring times.

The Kulluk first came to Alaska in September 1988 when she drilled an exploratory well for the Amoco Production Company at the Belcher Prospect in the Beaufort Sea in 167 feet of water.

In 1992 and 1993, she drilled four exploratory wells for Arco Alaska at the Kuvlum and Wild Weasel Prospects.

After that, the Kulluk was stored for fourteen years in McKinley Bay near Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories of Canada. She was due to be sold for scrap before Shell rescued her for new glories.

In 2011, Shell sent her to Seattle Washington, where Vigor Marine converted her to a "zero" discharge vessel at a reported $292 million dollars. "Zero discharge" means all liquid or solid waste are collected and sent ashore for disposal.

As part of the refit, the Kulluk's hull was painted blue, on the advice of whaling captains, who stated that this color was less likely to alarm bow-head whales in the Beaufort Sea where the ship is to drill.

The Kulluk was enlisted for duty in the Beaufort Sea, managing to drill one top hole before the 2012 season came to an end. The unpowered rig was towed from the Beaufort Sea to Dutch Harbor. There the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq made up to the Kulluk to tow her from Dutch Harbor to Seattle on Friday December 21, 2012.


A few days into the transit, pure havoc. The tug "Aiviq" was plagued with mechanical failures

and parted tow lines in the tumultuous Gulf of Alaska. At one point, lines fouled a propeller of the ice breaking USCG Healy.

Concerns for the safety of 18 crew members on the Kulluk, the US Coast Guard ordered the 18 men transit crew removed to the tug Aiviq on Saturday December 29th. That turned out to be a life saving call.

You have to look carefully to see the rescue helicopter.

Originally under tow by the Aiviq and Nanuq, the ailing Nanuq was replaced by Crowley's Alert

The End

Wind gusts in the area had been up to 37 miles per hour. The National Weather Service reported seas in the area of being up to 30 feet high.  For the fourth time, Aiviq lost her tow line.

The Alert, struggled to continue towing the Kulluk but due to "severe engine problems," Alert's crew was ordered to separate from the rig at 8:10 p.m. "to maintain the safety of the nine crew-members aboard the vessel," according to state environmental regulators and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

 Unified Command Update #13:

The tug Alert intentionally disconnected from the Kulluk at 8:10 p.m. on December 31, 2012, to maintain the safety of the nine crew members aboard the vessel. The Kulluk grounded at 8:48 p.m. on December 31, 2012 on Sitkalidak Island on the northern shore of Ocean Bay at a depth of about 32 to 48 feet.

The Kulluk has approximately 139,000 gallons of ultra low sulfur diesel on board. Equipment aboard the Kulluk is estimated to have about 12,000 gallons of combined lube oil and hydraulic fluid. The U.S. Coast Guard helicopter overflight detected no visible sheen.

There are no residents on Sitkalidak Island. The nearest town is Old Harbor, which is located on Kodiak Island. By Monday the 31st, the situation became grave, with heavy seas and strong winds. The Alert was ordered to separate from drill rig, for the safety of her crew.

So, Royal Dutch Shell's $290M Kulluk was hard aground on Sitkalidak Island.

For Shell, which has invested more than $4.5 billion to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic, the latest troubles raise questions about how prepared the company - as well as the Coast Guard - are for problems in the far north.

Shell purchase the drilling rights in the Beaufort Sea in 2005. Buried by dozens of lawsuits from conservation groups and Boroughs along the coast, as well as the Deepwater Horizon event, Shell faced an up hill battle to gain drilling drilling permits. As opposed to the Deepwater Horizon, drilling in 5,000 feet of water, the Beaufort Sea location is in 150 feet of water.

The Alaska Dispatch pretty well summed up this event:

The Kulluk and its tugs weren't operating above the Arctic Circle when the problems started late last week. And the Coast Guard's Alaska headquarters at Kodiak are located relatively nearby the grounded Kulluk, making response efforts easier than in the Arctic, where the agency has no base. That has some Alaskans wondering what would happen if similar troubles ever occur in the much more remote and hostile Arctic Ocean. 

"The implications of this very troubling incident are clear -- Shell and its contractors are no match for Alaska’s weather and sea conditions either during drilling operations or during transit," said Lois Epstein, the Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, late Monday in a statement. "Shell’s costly drilling experiment in the Arctic Ocean needs to be stopped by the federal government or by Shell itself, given the unacceptably high risks it poses to both humans and the environment."

And as if battling the elements isn't enough, Greenpeace vessel Esperanza  has been shadowing the Kulluk. Here is one of many injunctions filed against Greenpeace.


Unified Command Update #18:  A team of five salvage experts boarded the grounded drilling unit Kulluk Wednesday (Jan 2nd) to conduct a structural assessment to be used to finalize salvage plans, currently being developed by the Kulluk Tow Incident Unified Command.

The five-member team was lowered to the Kulluk by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at about 10:30 Wednesday morning. The assessment lasted about three hours. A helicopter safely hoisted the team from the drilling unit at about 1:30 p.m.

The Coast Guard helicopter and crew also delivered a state-owned ETS - emergency towing system - to the Kulluk, which will be used during salvage operations. A second ETS pack is expected to be delivered soon.

Smit Salvage is heading up salvage operations. Smit is a highly experienced salvage company that has assisted in hundreds of operations worldwide.

Vessel Names

Royal Dutch Shell and Edison Offshore, to their credit, have interacted with area residents by sponsoring "Name the Vessel" competitions. Here are some of the results.

Conical Drill Module (CDM) "Kulluk" was named by a young schoolgirl from Inuvik in 1982. Kulluk means “thunder” in Inuvialuktun.

Anchor Handling Supply Tug (AHST)  "Aiviq" was named by a 12-year-old girl from in Nuiqsut, Alaska.. The word means "walrus" in the Inupiaq language. And, she was flown to Louisiana to see the vessel launch!

Oil Spill Response vessel "Nanuq", was named by residents of the village of Kaktovik, meaning polar bear in Inupiaq.

In researching the Kulluk, I discovered some remarkable photos of the Kulluk, in better days, being resupplied by truck!

Arctic Dove Limited was founded by Paul and Janet Wiedemann, both from Aklavik, Northwest Territories, in 1997. Their business philosophy is to provide honest, safe, and dependable service for the Mackenzie Delta area.

Arctic Dove Limited credits the dedication and pride of its core of three full time Inuvialuit drivers for the successes and safety record achieved. Their combined experience delivering fuel locally is unequaled. The fact that they are able to maintain continuity of direct employment promotes the expertise they posses.

Not to mention their appreciation of protecting the environment.

Mr. Wiedermann gave Oil-Electric permission to share some incredible moments, resupplying the Kulluk in the Beaufort Sea in 2006!   "Kulluk was in McKinley Bay which is roughly 120 km east of Tuktoyaktuk, NT. It had been there for 13 years and we were delivering start up fuel for the rig- it was about 500,000 litres if memory serves me correct."

Our "Thanks" to Arctic Dove!

Finally, after all is said and done, the patch of oil being sought by Royal Dutch Shell, with all this drama and potential to ruin the Arctic Ocean,  is estimated to meet the nations needs for 24 months ...

2 Comments - Click here:

oamundsen said...

Robert, is it true that the original towing vessel lost power in all four engines because of foul fuel? If true, that will probably keep lawyers busy for years! Thanks for the great research. said...

Wow! Epic, cohesive writing, thrilling to view the incredible pictures. Another drama unfolding once again in the Northern seas. Your coverage in depth- up to the usual standards of reporting-told in exciting, can't put down style. Thank you for glorious effort for us arm-chair individuals that want no-nonsense, factual reports of individual heroic efforts of all the men and women assisting in this rescue operation.

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