Congress members seek investigation of Shell barge

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 4, 2013 at 6:44 am •  Published: January 4, 2013
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Members of Congress are calling for an investigation of Royal Dutch Shell PLC's Arctic offshore drilling operations as salvagers develop plans to move a company drill ship off rocks near an Alaska island, where it ran aground in a fierce year end storm.

Shell incident commander Sean Churchfield said Thursday that the first salvage crew on board the Kulluk, a 266-foot diameter barge with a 160-foot derrick, reported back with details that will be used to begin planning. He would not speculate on when a salvage report might be ready.

"There is still a lot of work to do to bring a safe conclusion to this incident," he said.

The vessel is upright and stable, with no indication of a fuel leak, Churchfield said.

The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, meanwhile, said in a statement that the New Year's Eve grounding should trigger a look at Shell's entire Arctic Ocean drilling operation by the Interior Department and the Coast Guard.

The coalition is made up of 45 House Democrats.

"The recent grounding of Shell's Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic," they said in a joint statement. "This is the latest in a series of alarming blunders, including the near-grounding of another of Shell's Arctic drilling rigs, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor and the failure of its blowout containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, in lake-like conditions."

The coalition believes these "serious incidents" warrant thorough investigation, the statement said.

Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email that the company is in full support of, and is providing resources for, the investigation of the grounding by the Unified Incident Command, made up of federal, state and company representatives. Smith said the findings will be available to the public.

The Kulluk is a non-propelled vessel with a reinforced funnel-shaped hull designed to operate in ice. It is carrying more than 140,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid. It drilled during the short open-water season last year in the Beaufort Sea.

A 360-foot anchor handler, the Aiviq, was towing the Kulluk from Dutch Harbor to Seattle last week for maintenance and upgrades when the tow line snapped south of Kodiak. Lines were reattached at least four times but could not be maintained. A lone tugboat still attached Monday night in a vicious storm couldn't control the vessel and cut it loose as it neared land.

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