News / USA

    Runaway Alaska Oil Rig Drags Tugs More Than 16 KM

    Waves crash over the conical drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska in this U.S. Coast Guard handout photo taken January 1, 2013.
    Waves crash over the conical drilling unit Kulluk where it sits aground on the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, Alaska in this U.S. Coast Guard handout photo taken January 1, 2013.
    Reuters
    The runaway oil rig that ran aground in Alaska on New Year's Eve dragged the two vessels trying to control it more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) shorewards in just over an hour before the crews cut it loose to save themselves in "near hurricane" conditions.
     
    Details were still emerging on Wednesday from Coast Guard officials and Royal Dutch/Shell, the company at the center of a highly controversial and accident-prone Arctic oil drilling program of which the Kulluk was a part.
     
    They paint a frightening picture of the 28,000-ton, saucer-shaped drillship being tossed towards the shore on waves up to 11 meters high driven by winds up to 100 kph, pulling its main support vessel, the Aiviq, and a tug, the Alert, behind it.
     
    "We are talking about near hurricane-strength conditions," said Darci Sinclair, an official of the Kulluk Tow Incident Unified Command, set up by the U.S. Coast Guard and the companies involved. "Regaining control became extremely challenging."
     
    On Wednesday, an update from the unified command said the Kulluk was still aground on Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska, but was "upright and stable". It plans a number of flyovers of the site during the day. Updates were available at www.kullukresponse.com.
     
    The 30-year-old Kulluk is operated by Noble Corp and was refitted by Shell for its summer 2012 drilling expedition in the Beaufort Sea off northern Alaska.
     
    Shell has spent over $4.5 billion on preparation for extraction activities there and in the Chukchi Sea further east, but has yet to complete a single well, and has suffered a number of embarrassing setbacks.
     
    2013 headlines that raise questions about the wisdom of drilling so far north in such a remote, environmentally-delicate and technically-challenging place, were not expected so early in the year, because activity stopped for the season two months ago.
     
    The Kulluk was on its way south for the winter. It had been towed east from the Beaufort Sea on Alaska's northern coast, and then south through the Bering Strait that separates the northernmost U.S. state from Siberia.
     
    On Dec. 28, around halfway to its winter destination in Seattle, and about 50 miles off the south coast of Kodiak island in the Gulf of Alaska, engine failure struck the towing vessel Aiviq - a state-of-the-art icebreaker that is just a few months old, and whose name means "Walrus".
     
    The weather was already rough and the drillship's 18-strong crew were lifted off, and a doomed four-day battle to keep the Kulluk off the rocks began.
     
    As weather conditions worsened, the operation ran into deeper difficulty a few hours after nightfall on December 31, with the shoreline less than 19 miles away.
     
    In this photo provided by the United States Coast Guard, the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk while a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Kodiak transports crew members on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 80 miles southwest of Kodiak CIn this photo provided by the United States Coast Guard, the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk while a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Kodiak transports crew members on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 80 miles southwest of Kodiak C
    x
    In this photo provided by the United States Coast Guard, the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk while a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Kodiak transports crew members on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 80 miles southwest of Kodiak C
    In this photo provided by the United States Coast Guard, the tugs Aiviq and Nanuq tow the mobile drilling unit Kulluk while a Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Kodiak transports crew members on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 80 miles southwest of Kodiak C
    Aiviq, one of two vessels that were attached at the time, lost its line. It was re-attached, and battled on against the elements along with the Alert, but the coast kept getting closer as the storm blew all three vessels northeastwards.
     
    At 2015 (Jan. 1, 0515 GMT), the order was given to cut the lines to the Kulluk to save the Aiviq, the Alert, and their crews.
     
    At 2030, the lines were cut, and by 2048, a trajectory map on the unified command website shows, the Kulluck was aground about 1,600 feet from the shore on Sitkalidak Island, near the larger Kodiak Island. The Kulluk, the wind, and the waves had dragged Aiviq and Alert more than 10 miles in just over an hour.
     
    The vessel settled on what one Coast Guard official described as "loose rock and sand."
     
    Noble had no immediate comment. Shell in London has made a series of statements confirming the progress of the operation, but had nothing to add on Wednesday, and referred calls to the unified command. Shell in Houston could not immediately be reached for comment.
     
    But opponents of Arctic drilling were quick to hold the accident up as an example of Shell's inability to keep the Arctic safe, even though the spill risk from the drillship is limited to the 143,000 gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel and 12,000 gallons of other oil products on board.
     
    On Wednesday, Greenpeace joined the chorus of criticism.
     
    "Shell has lurched from one Arctic disaster to the next, displaying staggering ineptitude every step of the way. Were the pristine environment of the frozen north not at risk of an oil spill it would be almost comical. Instead it's tragic," said campaigner Ben Ayliffe. "We're moving closer to a major catastrophe in the Arctic and the U.S. government appears unwilling to provide either the needed oversight or emergency backup the company's incompetence requires."
     
    The U.S. Coast Guard said on Tuesday that the Kulluk's hull appeared sound after a few overflights.
     
    Shell's Arctic campaign has been bedevilled by problems. A second drillship, the Noble Discoverer, was briefly detained in December by the Coast Guard in Seward, Alaska, because of safety concerns. A mandatory oil-containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, failed for months to meet Coast Guard requirements for seaworthiness, and a ship mishap resulted in damage to a critical piece of equipment intended to cap a blown well.
     
    Asked about why the Kulluk was still at sea two months after ending its drilling program, a reliable contract drilling source said the standard "demobilization" process that follows drilling programs can take days or weeks depending on the model of rig and how it is anchored.
     
    It is also possibile that the weather was rough enough over the last few months to delay transit. The availability of the towing vessel and crew could also be a factor.

    You May Like

    Russian-Backed Offensive in Syria Pushes War to Tipping Point

    As threat to Aleppo and rebel forces grows, US plan to negotiate becomes less and less appealing for Syrian government, says one military analyst

    IS Runs Timber Smuggling Business in Afghanistan, Officials Say

    Government turning blind eye to smuggling, according to tribal leaders; Afghanistan's forest cover dropped by 50 percent in three decades, experts say

    Video White House Seeks $1.8 Billion to Combat Zika

    Obama administration says funding would 'support essential strategies to combat the virus' such as rapidly expanding mosquito control programs, accelerating vaccine research

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.