Over New Year's Eve U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) crews contended with an Arctic storm while assisting Royal Dutch Shell plc's grounded drillship The Kulluk on the southeast shoreline of Sitkalidak Island, AK. Shell emphasized that the grounding is a maritime accident and not related to drilling, and that there was no risk of an oil spill.
Responders were staging spill response equipment just in case. On Wednesday Unified Incident Command was planning multiple flyovers to assess Kulluk's condition.
"Once conditions are deemed safe, Unified Command intends to place an assessment team on the Kulluk to further evaluate the vessel's condition," it said. "The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instituted a temporary flight restriction, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley is maintaining a safety zone of one nautical mile around the Kulluk [Wednesday] morning. Both restrictions were put in place to ensure the safety of response personnel, as well as local mariners and aviation pilots in the area.
"The Kulluk is upright and stable, and the Coast Guard flight crew's aerial assessment [Tuesday] found no signs of environmental impact."
The drillship was being towed in heavy seas from Alaska to Seattle when it broke loose from its tow vessel and ran aground at about 9 p.m. local time Monday. "There has been no loss of life and no significant injuries as a result of this incident and Shell is working hard with the relevant authorities to protect the maritime environment in the vicinity of the grounded vessel," the company said.
Shell said Tuesday that there had been "no more than two first-aid cases" related to the grounding. The island where the rig ran aground is uninhabited.
USCG Capt. Paul Mehler said during a news conference that there was no release of any product from the drillship, which he said was carrying about 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid. The USCG conducted a flyover of the grounding site Tuesday morning.
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), who is the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Tuesday that the incident casts doubt on the energy industry's ability to ply the Arctic environment for oil and gas.
"Oil companies keep saying they can conquer the Arctic, but the Arctic keeps disagreeing with the oil companies," Markey said. "It's clear from multiple incidents that oil companies cannot currently drill safely in the foreboding conditions of the Arctic, and drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment."
The Kulluk completed its role in supporting the company's 2012 Alaska exploration program several weeks ago and was en route to winter harbor through waters off the southern coast of Alaska when it ran aground, Shell said. "We have already begun a review -- working with our marine experts, partners and suppliers -- of how this sequence of events, including the failure of multiple engines on the MV Aiviq (towing vessel) led to this incident," Shell said. "We intend to use lessons from that review to strengthen our maritime fleet operations, globally.
"The incident did not involve our drilling operations, nor does it involve any possibility of crude oil release. Through our role in the Unified Incident Command, we quickly mobilized experts to respond to this situation."
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