Royal Dutch Shell's government-approved oil spill response plan calls for two rigs in the region. One to drill a relief well in case of a runaway blow out, as experienced by the Deepwater Horizon.
Kulluk's companion is the self-propelled drill ship Noble Discoverer. Both vessels were southbound to Seattle for winter layup and refitting, when this Gothic horror story began. Until 2011, Noble Discoverer, originally built as a transport back in 1976, was drilling off New Zealand. Shell chartered her for work in the Arctic in 2011.
Just getting out of New Zealand proved to be problematic, not due to her dicey machinery, but because of Greenpeace and other environment groups protesting her planned use in the Arctic. Protesters delayed her departure from Port Taranaki.
This article from the LA Times gives a good explanation about her tribulations.
"If a replacement rig is unavailable, Shell would be blocked from oil drilling on the Chukchi and Beaufort sea leases it bought for $2.2 billion in 2005. Well documented problems forced Shell to limit its 2012 operations to such so-called "top-hole drilling" of only the initial 1,500 feet of its Arctic wells when its oil spill response system could not win approval and get to the area before ice started encroaching." (Source Anchorage Daily News.)
In the spring of 2011, both the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer could seen from Google Earth, as they lay alongside Vigor Inductrial, formerly Todd-Pacific,on Seattle's Harbor Island.
There are a number of serious problems to be overcome by Royal Dutch Shell, if there is be a 2013 drilling season.