Grounded oil rig Kulluk to get another tow try before decision on resuming trip here

Jan 3, 2013 - Arial survey of Kulluk and life rafts

(From Thursday: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter)
Before it’s decided if Shell’s grounded drilling rig Kulluk can and will resume its tow back here for offseason maintenance, an effort is afoot not just to tow it off the Alaskan island where it’s stuck, but to move it 30 miles to a “safe harbor” for inspection. The Kulluk, which spent almost a year at Harbor Island’s Vigor Shipyards, got into trouble in bad weather more than a week ago, while being towed back here. Finally, after problems with tow lines and its tow vessel Aiviq – which spent time here last year too – the Kulluk went adrift and grounded New Year’s Eve on Kodiak Island (map), carrying more than 100,000 gallons of fuel, none of which is believed to have spilled. A “unified command” has since been set up to manage the salvage operation, and the Anchorage Daily News has a report on its Saturday briefing, saying that if the attempt to move the Kulluk is successful, then they’ll decide whether to resume towing it here.

SIDE NOTES: Seattle weather analyst Cliff Mass says the decision to tow it through stormy weather and seas was “misguided” and explains why; the Dutch Harbor Fisherman, meantime, has reported that the motivation for trying to move the rig out of Alaska involved taxes. One other link: The “unified command” organized for the salvage operation has its own website at, with a variety of materials and documents, including a partial transcript of the Saturday briefing.

16 Replies to "Grounded oil rig Kulluk to get another tow try before decision on resuming trip here"

  • Bernd January 6, 2013 (8:28 am)
    Is a great read to get more info about the ill faded call from Shell oil. How can we trust them to drill in such a ecological sensitive area.

    • WSB January 6, 2013 (12:03 pm)

      Thanks, Bernd; that’s the Cliff Mass link in our story (under SIDE NOTES) – TR

  • Baymo January 6, 2013 (8:29 am)

    Didn’t the Kulluk run into problems when it was heading up there this summer as well?

  • bridge to somewhere January 6, 2013 (9:13 am)

    It probably should be mentioned that when the rig was at the Harbor Island shipyard and WSB ran an article about it, some folks expressed concern over arctic drilling. At that time, others mocked their concern, and praised Shell for bringing jobs, suggested Shell has the risk managed properly, and, well, pushed the “drill baby drill” mantra. I don’t see those folks commenting on this story. Curious.

  • miws January 6, 2013 (11:26 am)

    bridge, the “drill, baby drill” folks are probably trying to concoct some far fetched plot that the grounding is the gubmint’s fault.


    You know, too much regulation or something…



  • Smitty January 6, 2013 (12:39 pm)

    Comment on what, bridge?

    It is not a drilling accident, it is a towing accident. Could have been any type of rig. It was in transit and has not leaked a drop of what little it is carrying.

  • smokeycretin9 January 6, 2013 (2:16 pm)

    I make my living from the oil and natural gas industry as a machinist for a company that rebuilds and repairs refining equipment.

  • G January 6, 2013 (4:27 pm)

    Hello people, this was a towing accident, NOT a drilling accident.

    Ease up on the the schradenfreude, ala NW passive-aggressive style.

  • bridge to somewhere January 6, 2013 (7:14 pm)

    It’s spelled “Schadenfreude.” But in any event, towing or not, people are concerned that perhaps Shell doesn’t have an accident record (drilling or towing or otherwise) spotless enough to justify drilling in a sensitive area. I think this huge screw-up is evidence of that. No need to get person G, ‘dem are the facts . . .

  • Harry January 6, 2013 (7:58 pm)

    The Kulluk is a rig that was designed specifically to safely drill in Arctic waters, or should I say ice? The hull is shaped like a bowl so that when ice closes in around it, the ice is forced under the hull instead of crushing it. The hull wall thickness is in excess of three inches which gives it tremendous strength. It is a one of a kind drilling vessel. The fact that it was designed to safely drill in frozen Arctic conditions also makes it a difficult rig to tow in heavy seas. This rig is so heavy and structurally sound that it is more likely Alaska may have an immovable but harmless permanent fixture on their shoreline than any pollutants being released.
    Obviously wrong decisions were made as far as the towing operation is concerned.
    I am an oilfield Consultant and I have spent time on the Kulluk.

  • anti-obstruction January 6, 2013 (8:15 pm)

    My understanding is this rig has 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board.
    Regardless, it’s clear none of these mulit-billion dollar oil enterprises who assure us they have everything under control as relates to environmental protection are telling the truth.
    It’s all an accident waiting to happen, and will be no surprise to us or them when it does.

  • Ajax January 6, 2013 (10:04 pm)

    I have no doubt that Shell and the other big exploration companies have the know-how to drill in the Arctic or most anywhere safely. However, they consistently choose to make decisions which destroy the environment, people’s livelihoods and literally end the lives of their workers and others in the name of increased profits. And, I’m not some passive-aggressive Northwesterner – I lived most of my life on the Gulf Coast of Texas and more than 3/4 of my family is employed in the oil and gas industry.

  • let them swim January 7, 2013 (7:09 am)

    The Shell Company was trying to avoid paying Alaska State taxes in the MILLIONS by removing the rig from Alaska waters before the year ran out. Oops. But, they are a company and want to save expenses. Looks as though this one will cost
    them a little extra. Info from the Anchorage Newspaper. Also, the rig is being towed, as I type this,to Kiliuda Bay – located in a safe harbor on the main Island of Kodiak.

    • WSB January 7, 2013 (7:32 am)

      The tax info is mentioned in the story. As for the tow, indeed, they refloated it overnight – we were tracking it in our other channels (Facebook/Twitter) but I was going to wait to see how things were this morning before a separate update … Tugs from Seattle are part of the effort. is the latest update the “Unified Command” has published.

  • Brewmeister January 7, 2013 (8:56 am)

    Like others have mentioned, this was towing accident has nothing to do with being able to safely drill.

    For all this hating on the oil companies, why not display the same anger towards the fishing industry? What about the hundreds of fishing vessels that have sunk or been washed up on beaches? They all carried fuel and many times the fuel was lost to the sea. Is fishing in the arctic regions safe? Of course not but we still do it and we all still enjoy some tasty Salmon, Crab, Halibut, etc. So as your eating your fish and crab tonight, have a big bowl of hypocrisy soup as well.

  • Doctor Yes January 7, 2013 (4:54 pm)

    Thanks, brewmeister,

    If they can’t even tow their rigs, I would imagine they will do a great job drilling. In your world, though, I imagine one plus one equals twelve. LOL

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