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Wayne Kernochan

I agree wholeheartedly -- and Happy New Year, Neven. Thanks again for your wonderful efforts last year, and I hope you and yours have luck and well-deserved happiness in the new one. - Wayne

Lucas Durand

Tad Patzek made an interesting post at his blog recently, which sketches out some of the difficulties of arctic operations:

Warnings abound...
Who is really listening I wonder?


Thanks, Lucas, for an interesting read. And thanks to you too, Wayne.

Just Testing

They _will_ be creative and innovative, very much so. Oil exploration consists of a collection of different techniques. Some techniques have been tried but proven too expensive/elaborate/slow and have been archived and collecting dust for occasions just like this.

It's better to look at it as a junkie scheming for ways to get hold of some junk for the next fix, nothing is sacred.


Neven wrote:

Arctic sea ice is retreating, so let's get over there and start some off-shore drilling!

Hmm, not exactly. This latest incident happened in the Gulf of Alaska, to the south of the Aleutian islands, a fair 200 km to the south of Kodiak island. In a region where the sea never freezes, that is since the end of the last Ice Age.

Therefore Shell never found itself restricted there by ice fields, not even by icebergs.


I'm sorry, Kris, I forgot to link to the Alaska Dispatch article, but I did write "a $290 million offshore oil rig operated as part of Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts in summer". And the Guardian article has this:

Shell used the Kulluk in September and October to drill a prospect in the Beaufort Sea. It was being taken to Seattle for the off-season when the problems began.

Put simply: The Kulluk is where it is because of oil in the Arctic that Shell wants to drill. So there you go.


There's a second update at the end of the post.


Spill, baby, spill.

Artful Dodger

Catching up on Fall 2012 news, on Oct 10 the EU voted NOT to impose a moratorium on Arctic drilling:


To fully appreciate the irony of today's event, consider the time difference between Alaska and Washington DC. The Kulluk ran aground almost exactly as the USA hit the 'fiscal cliff', which occurred at the stroke of midnight on New Year's eve.

Snap! Dickens in da House! Can you hear that rattling? That's the Ghost of Oil Spill Futures. Just ask Munich Re how that's workin' out.

Oh and BTW 'kulluk' means 'servitude' in Turkish. Just sayin' ;^)


James Benison

Strange coincidence, but I was in that area a few years ago. I was part of a delivery crew transporting a boat from San Francisco to Kodiak. On the way we stopped in the town of Old Harbor to drop off a bunch of school supplies for the kids.

Old Harbor is a little village of mostly native Americans. It's just across a narrow channel from Sitkalidak Island. The locals are dependent on fish for subsistence. A few fishing guides are also there, but it is so remote that it doesn't really draw in a lot of tourists. We also saw a large pod of orcas and numerous whales in that region. The people were super friendly. It would be a shame to see that place ruined by a spill.

James Benison

Here's an interesting page on the people that live there.



That is a spoof site.


although quite thoroughly made.

"Shell.com" linking back to the same site also is a giveaway.


As such, it is of course completely justified. Couldn´t agree more.


And there's a third update now. An image, a vid, but not much more.


First paragraph is misleading.

Also, some people on here might need to be a little less hypocritical. It's almost as if you're hoping for a spill just so you can have an excuse to bash the oil company some more.

Shameful behavior, IMO.

The Coast Guard said no spill, so just leave it at that.


Leave it at that? (Day one on the rocks in 30' surf?)

Back in 2000, after 14 years of non-use in Tuktoyaktuk, the Canadians hired a consulting firm to generate a glowing account of the Kullak's previous performance in Beaufort sea ice:


Fascinating bit about the shackle breaking -- was it really newly purchased, is there really a neutron beam facility in Dutch Harbor to check it for cracks (or can you hardly get a cup of warm coffee there)? I've heard that the abrupt loss of tension brought the Aiveq broadside to 40' swells, causing a 50 degree roll and sea water into the engine exhaust/air intakes. That, not asphaltine in deteriorated diesel, caused all four fuel injectors to fail.

We'll have to take Shell's word on the accident -- they've already announced their investigative report won't be made public. Mum's the word too at privately held Edison Chouest Offshore, the nation's largest maritime transport company (over 200 vessels including the Nathan B Palmer). The billionaire Chouest brothers are the largest single donor to Louisianna politician Scalise, exceeding even the Kochs. Scalise has been pressing the Obama administration non-stop to open up more areas for oil and gas exploration.

It is tricky to calculate the degree of sway from the Coast Guard video. The camera was held steady but seemingly not gyroscopically stabled. As the helicopter circles around the wreck at varying distances, the horizon is not quite level. Thus it is difficult to compute the maximal angle or periodicity of sway. The 'survivor anchor' was deployed prior to ground -- though what effect if any it is having remains obscure.

While it is great that the Kulluk is upright for now, I don't believe the 24-gon at the bottom was ever designed to pivot 9902 metric tons of deadweight. The rig is not grounded on a sand or gravel beach but rather off a rocky headland, in 5-6 fathoms. You can see rocks sticking out on all sides in the photos and the nav chart that I have attached.

I think they may end up having to build a breakwater around the wreck or a rock causeway out to it. Either way, not going to be easy to pump the oil ballast. It will have to be replaced with sea water to keep it stable until it can be cut up. Pulling it loose to sink it at sea is very dicey until all the lube and diesel have been lifted out.

I've attached a largish photomontage including a shot of Kulluk in sea ice, along with Dr. Woodgate's map of coastal currents.



First paragraph is misleading.

Please explain, what exactly do you find misleading about it?

you can have an excuse to bash the oil company some more.

I don't give a flying f*** about bashing oil companies. I just want them to stay out of the Arctic and take their insanity elsewhere.

It's almost as if you're hoping for a spill

I think the damage is already done PR-wise, no spill needed. But if a spill were needed to get people to realize how insane it is to drill for oil in the Arctic, then so be it, let it spill.

Because the damage will be even greater when the Arctic is opened up for drilling. This is Keystone XXXL.


Shell fought off 50 separate lawsuits (and bought off 50 separate legislators???) to get their Beaufort permits ... let's see how that goes from here on out. Are the Chinese willing to pay $20 a gallon for fuel?

Below is what the operational length of day looks like at this latitude -- and what it means to grapple lines in the dark in heavy seas and high wind. I've attached also a photo of what the bottom looks like at the rocky headland on the west end of Ocean Bay beach. It's a miracle that the wreck is so close to the largest coast guard air base in Alaska.

They have no air assets that could be deployed to the Beaufort Sea (aka Gyre). If the coast guard cutter Alex Haley had fouled their port propeller launching a line to the Kulluk there, that becomes a serious accident in its own right in the real Arctic.

This article may interest people in terms of drilling the Beaufort Sea in moving multi-year pack ice:




Here is what the underside of the rig looks like, the edge that will be rocking back and forth on the rocks for the rest of the winter. Note the rig is somewhat elliptical in shape -- I've not yet determined if the long axis is oriented parallel to shoreline. The fairleads penetrate the hull so that sea ice in the Beaufort does not mess up the 12 fixed anchors (which were not deployed here).

There are three listed endangered vertebrates whose designated critical habitat includes Sitkalidak Island -- Stellar sea lion, sea otter, Steller eider. It's not going to work having them oiled up. I could see haul-out and use of Partition Cove, especially behind low barrier. I wonder what they'll do about all the Kodiak bears in terms of salvage staging. Here's the link to American Land Conservancy projects there.




Nightvid Cole

Where is your $20/gallon for fuel figure coming from?

If accurate, the per-mile cost of operating a 100 MPG scooter with $20/gallon fuel will be lower than for $4/gallon gas into a 25 MPG automobile in the USA, since the mileage-based depreciation and maintenance/repair cost are about the same for both (about 20-25 cents/mile) and would be likely reduced in China due to cheap local labor.

Car in US:

fuel: 13-16 cents/mile
depreciation: 10-25 cents/mile
service: 3-15 cents/mile
insurance: fixed or < 6 cents/mile

Total: About 35-50 cents/mile

Scooter in China: fuel 20 cents/mile ($20/gallon, 100 MPG)
depreciation: 5 cents/mile ($1000/20,000 mi)
service: < 5 cents/mile (cheap labor!!!)

Total: < 30 cents/mile !!!

Those in China with incomes comparable to our US middle class could definitely afford $20/gallon fuel if they use scooters!


Shell is $4.5 billion into this already and not a drop of petroleum product to date. This is a multi billion dollar accident. And they're farther away then ever from sale of that first drop.

Here's the pre-refurbished Kulluk flaring out some heavy diesel smoke onto the Beaufort ice (no oil was ever produced). Shell is touting the 'ultra-low sulfur' bunker fuel on board now (a response to Native air pollution complaints) but sulfur content is irrelevant to marine water pollution or wildlife oiling. If there's a spill, get ready for the Coast Guard to roll over on use of dispersants despite the cold and currents. Sitkalatig Island is not BLM, FS or NPS land-- it is entirely owned by the Native Land Corp based in Old Harbor. Looks pristine in the oblique photo.

Looks to me like some video frames have the derrick about vertical whereas the worst I saw, after a huge wave hit, was a 9-10º tilt landward. However it is hard to get the horizon accurately because of the fog line. On the one hand, the 3" steel hull and eggshell design (for ice crushing) have to help; on the other, wobbling on rock was never in the engineering game plan.




The sway is more like 5 degrees, since the rigging is already shaped like a pyramid, and you're looking at it from an oblique angle.


First paragraph implies this has anything to do with sea ice, which it doesn't. The accident is nowhere near the sea ice.

Artful Dodger

It's not just blogs raising the warning. These Industry statements were all made before the Kulluk crash:

  • French oil company Total S.A. publicly stated that it believes it is not safe to drill for oil in the Arctic.
  • BP shelved an Arctic drilling project because it can’t safely get at the oil.
  • Lloyd's of London believes cleaning up any oil spill in the Arctic would present "multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk".

How long until these Big Banks pull the plug on Shell's Arctic ambitions? (Shell Investors / Shareholders):

  • Allianz SE
  • Argenta
  • BayernLB
  • BNP Paribas
  • Commerzbank
  • DekaBank
  • Deutsche Bank
  • DZ Bank
  • ING
  • KBC
  • LBBW
  • Munich Re
  • UniCredit Group

Would YOU put your money in any of these institutions if they continue to place the Arctic region ecosystem at risk?

Shell has demonstrated a keystone-like inability to remove their drilling rig from the Chukchi sea safely before Winter storms wreck it. The U.S. Department of the Interior was wise to not allow Shell to drill into any oil-bearing strata in Summer 2012. There will be even less confidence that this enterprise can be conducted safely going forward.


First paragraph implies this has anything to do with sea ice, which it doesn't. The accident is nowhere near the sea ice.

I'm sorry, D, but I don't agree. This accident has everything to do with (the disappearance of) sea ice.

Q: Why was that oil rig there in the first place?
A: Because they moved it away from the Beaufort Sea.

Q: Why was it in the Beaufort Sea?
A: To do some test drilling.

Q: Why was it doing test drilling there?
A: Because Shell expects to make huge returns on the 4.5 billion invested so far as the Arctic sea ice retreats.

And one other link to the sea ice: If they get in this much trouble without any sea ice or icebergs around, how will all those future oil rigs fare WITH sea ice and icebergs around?

A: It's an accident waiting to happen.

C: Don't go drilling in the Arctic. Just say no.

Hans Verbeek

C: Don't go drilling in the Arctic. Just say no.
Just ask Ben Bernanke to print those huge returns.
The FED is already laundering $80 billion of "bad debt" every month.
Why bother with drilling and extracting oil, if you can simply make money out of thin air. ;-)

Lucas Durand

I just wanted to say that I recently changed my typepad screen name from "D" to "Lucas Durand".

I have no connection to any recent comments made (coincidentally) by any other "D"s.


Thanks, Lucas. I remember you, you're building that cool house. :-)


I've been reading the latest article about the Kulluk rig in our local Sydney paper


I am staggered by the amount of money already spent in Arctic drilling and oil exploration but it's not surprising ( unfortunately ).

I can only see this continuing until the technology catches up to their desires, and it will. They will create the technology and machinery to do this. Maybe not this year or next but they will. Imagine how much money is going into R&D behind the scenes!

Thank you Neven for your continued effort in creating your blogs and providing us with so much incredible data.


Kate, Jan 03, 00:26

In 2008, Shell, for $2.1 billion, won 275 blocks (in 4 “prospects”), of the 5,354 Chuchki Sea blocks offered in US federal lease sale 193. That sale area was estimated to contain between 4 and 77 billion barrels of oil equivalent. That’s were lots of that sum went. I can’t remember, and am too lazy to look-up the details, but have a hazy recollection that Shell’s leases to the east in the Beaufort Sea were purchased from other holders, as the much of that area’s federal leases were auctioned several decades ago. That’s also in the $4.5 billion. Shell did quite a bit more seismic work in ’09 and ’10 during and mobilized drilling fleets in those years as well as went through several court challenges between 2008 and 2-12.

Personally, I think the past burn of a billion or so $$ (only a guess) with no result lead Shell to a hurried effort in 2012 of putting into effect all the details required. They were months behind their announced schedule, primarily due readying the large ice going barge that was built to transport sections of the Prudhoe and adjacent oil fields processing facility, then sat for many years in San Diego. It was stationed this fall between the drill rigs with spill response gear, as part of Shell’s drilling permit requirement.

There was considerable off shore exploratory drilling along the Beaufort Sea coast of the Arctic Ocean both east and west from Prudhoe Bay in the 80’s and the ~160 m long, 15,000 dw ton drilling ship Noble Discoverer operated this summer in the Beaufort at a location north the western boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Shell’s drilling permits require 2 drill platforms, each acting as the other’s relief-well driller if one experiences a rig disabling a blow-out. The permits also require drilling at “hydrocarbon zone” dept to end by 4-6 weeks before ice formation.

The Noble Discovered was towed into Seward at the end of November due to propeller vibrations, then held for several weeks by the Coast Guard to correct what that regulatory entity said were “pretty serious crew safety and pollution-prevention system” problems, observed when the CG conducted an normal investigation of the ship’s towing incident and apparently missed (?) by the pre-drilling inspection on her departure from Seattle.

Artful Dodger

Arctic headwinds increase for Shell:

"Calls for federal scrutiny of Royal Dutch Shell PLC drilling operations in Arctic waters swelled Thursday with a request for a formal investigation by members of Congress." [Huffington Post]

"The grounding of the Kulluk drilling rig caps a series of episodes that have dogged Shell’s effort to tap Arctic oil. Environmental groups this week said they would ask President Barack Obama to suspend all current and pending Arctic drilling permits until operators prove they can work safely in the region’s harsh conditions." [Bloomberg]

H/T Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress


The island community of Kodiak recognizes that “sustainability” is a survival skill as well as a long-term development plan. The goal was to pair the great fisheries resources of the North Pacific and Bering Sea to renewable energy sources. Many years ago, Kodiak established a goal to increase renewable wind and hydro resources to meet 95% of the community’s electrical needs by 2020 and nine years ahead of schedule, we’re almost there. http://www.kodiak.org/business/renewable.html


The “unified command” organized for the salvage operation has its own website at kullukresponse.com, with a variety of materials and documents, including a partial transcript of the Saturday briefing

Eli Rabett

Eli hopes that everyone realizes how this ties in with the pursuit of Charles Monnett by BOEM. Monnett's leaking of BOEM documents to PEER caused a minimum of a four year delay in Shell's drilling in the Beaufort and Chuckchi Seas, that cost Shell a pile of money. If that was not enough, he blocked Shell from setting up a shell environmental study of the Arctic in place of a real one.


Thanks for clearing the Monnett story up!



While not yet daylight here, the Kulluk is again under the tow of the Aiviq, the vessel Shell purpose built to operate with the drill rig. The current plan is to move her some 30 miles north to a sheltered inlet on Kodiak Island.




Thanks, WhiteBeard. There's a 4th and probably last update at the end of this post.

Crozet Dutchie

The reason why Shell moved the Kulluk was simply tax evasion!
See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/new-twist-in-stricken-rig-saga-shell-was-moving-it-to-avoid-tax-8439128.html


Thanks a lot, Crozet Dutchie. So I guess that will be the last and very embarrassing update to the post.

Bunch of lunatics... :-|


The Obama administration is to order a review of Shell's Arctic operations:


They were lucky. While the rig was still grounded, there was a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the area, with a tsunami warning issued.


They were lucky? Lucky?! They still had to pay taxes! How can they be lucky?



Some UK government hypocricy:



A-team has more good news (posted form another thread):

Some great news for the Arctic Ocean!

The Kulluk's hull is reportedly toast. It cannot even be towed from Kodiak to Seattle. While rocking off Sitkalidak, waves coming onboard also caused severe saltwater corrosion to the power plant, wiring, ventilation and internal control systems.

Because a second drill ship must be nearby to drill a hypothetical relief well, the Noble Discoverer (still languishing in Seward, lawyered up against a multi-faceted Coast Guard investigation) cannot drill on its own. No contract with another 'Arctic-ready' drill vessels appears feasible. Thus, no drilling in 2013 and probably not 2014 as well.

The Kulluk will sit anchored off Kodiak, attended by tugs Pt. Oliktok, Warrrior, Lauren Foss, Ocean Wave and Corbin Foss, the anchor-handling vessel Aiviq, oil service vessels Nanuq and Sisuaq, until calmer seas in April. This has to be costing something -- the idled Noble Discoverer alone is contracted for $240,000 per day.



And some more:

One scenario has Shell bringing a gigantic ocean-going drydock over from Korea. Once inside, the Kulluk then undertakes a dicey voyage back to Malaysia, either to be repaired or scrapped,since major repairs are not feasible at Kodiak.

Curiously its original destination in Puget Sound, Vigor Industrial shipyards, just ordered a huge new floating drydock on 15 Jan 2013 so it is possible that the Kulluk will be patched in Kodiak and end up there (say April 2014) for refurbishing. However the inside width is only 186' whereas the Kulluk is 300' wide at deck level.

If, like McKibben and Hansen say, 80% of the world's fossil fuels need to stay underground, off-shore oil in the Arctic would be a good place to start.



Worth noting that Shell is not the only player. The ExxonMobil/Rosneft partnership has been much less reported, but gets a mention here:



Shell game ...

Royal Dutch Shell announced it will dry-tow both the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer to Korean shipyards for expensive repairs, effectively ending prospects for Arctic drilling in 2013.

The Kulluk suffered unspecified hull damage, electrical system corrosion, and internal structural damage during its grounding. Built in 1983, it once drilled in the Beaufort Sea, last completing a well in 1993. Shell spent $292 million over six years upgrading it.

The Kulluk will be wet-towed from Kodiak Island (if hull damage allows) back to Dutch Harbor and dry-towed to Korea from there. Shell has not yet applied for the wet-tow permit. The Kulluk may end up being scrapped.

The Noble Discoverer, a log carrier built in 1966 and refurbished for Arctic drilling at a cost of $193 million, drilled only a single day last September. Shell was forced to disconnect the rig from its seafloor anchor as a large ice pack approached. Earlier, it slipped its mooring near Dutch Harbor in July and ran aground. Later in port, an engine backfired, starting a a smokestack fire.

However repairs in Korea are unrelated to these incidents -- its entire propulsion system, including the engine, needs to be replaced. The dry-tow from Seward across the Pacific Ocean will begin in 3-6 weeks and take 2-4 weeks.

In a dry-tow, a larger semi-submersible ship or floating drydock sinks itself below the draft of the rig to be towed. After floating the rig over the its deck, the dry-tow vessel is raised back up with the drill rig on its deck. This is necessary since the Kulluk has no engine of its own and that of the Noble Discoverer is damaged.


Once in a Korean dry dock, additional inspections will determine the full extent of repair work needed. This will be scheduled against existing shipyard commitments, delaying return to service to summer 2014 at the earliest. Victor Shipyards in Seattle, the original destination of the Kulluk, is no longer in the picture, evidently because of higher labor costs than Asia and lack of a large enough drydock.

 photo drytow_zpsab2a564d.gif


Finding substitute ships is problematic: only two other rigs can operate in Arctic sea-ice condition -- the Orlan and the SDC. Neither is available. The Orlan is already contracted out for drilling operations at rival Exxon Mobil and Rosneft projects off Sakhalin Island; the SDC is only sporadical leased, most recently 2006 for the Canadian Arctic.

The SDC cannot replace either the Kulluk or Noble Discoverer as it operates only to 80 feet, whereas both of Shell's drilling sites are in 200 feet of water. Rental rates for not-quite-Arctic harsh-climate rigs run $350,000 a day. Two rigs are always required so a relief well can be drilled.

Shell has spent nearly $5 billion on permits, personnel and equipment over the past six years. That includes extensive infrastructure in Wainwright, Barrow and Deadhorse such as crew camps and an airplane hanger plus a half billion dollars of special emergency oil spill response systems.

Ghoti Of Lod

Looks like Shell decided to not even try drilling in the Arctic in 2013 according to news reports.

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