Shell oil drilling rig has close encounter with shore in Unalaska
The Coast Guard says an inspection of a Shell drilling ship that lost its mooring and drifted toward shore of an Alaska Island shows no signs of damage or grounding.
Petty Officer Sara Francis says the Coast Guard will review images of the hull of the 571-foot Noble Discoverer captured Sunday when Shell representatives sent down a remote-operated vehicle.
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says the company also is bringing in divers to check.
Francis says the vessel came within 100 yards of shore in Dutch Harbor Saturday before it was towed farther off shore and reanchored.
That measurement is disputed by Kristjan Laxfoss, a Dutch Harbor captain who took photos that appear to show the ship much closer.
Laxfoss says the vessel was not moving and appeared grounded.
Shell Oil has run into a number of problems with its Arctic drilling plans over the last week. The Coast Guard refused to certify its oil spill containment barge without substantial modifications, the EPA is reviewing the Noble Discoverer drill rig’s air permits — and on Saturday, that rig came dangerously close to shore in Unalaska.
Investigators are still trying to determine whether the Noble Discoverer actually ran aground. Bystanders and photographs place the rig less than a hundred feet from shore, but Shell says a preliminary inspection of the hull found no damage.
Coast Guard Lieutenant Jim Fothergill said damage to the hull or propellers is the only sure sign that the ship hit the beach.
“I know they were very close to the beach, but we haven’t determined yet whether they ran aground,” Fothergill said.
Shell plans to send divers underneath the Discoverer on this morning to get a closer look. The Coast Guard will check the divers’ video footage to determine whether the ship actually made contact with the beach.
Regardless of what that shows, convincing locals might be difficult. Many, like charter captain Kristjan Laxfoss, are sure the ship hit shore.
“If the captain had asked them to put the gangway down, he could have walked to the post office,” Laxfoss said.
Shell vice president Pete Slaiby characterized it as a “near miss,” but says the company is taking it very seriously.
“I don’t doubt for a minute that this came entirely too close for our comfort,” Slaiby said.
When asked specifically how the Discoverer drifted towards the beach while multiple Shell vessels – including the tugboat Lauren Foss – sat nearby, Slaiby said it was too soon to say.
“We will investigate the timeliness of the response for the Lauren Foss and others, but we’re happy that we planned and had that ship [the Lauren Foss] in harbor for such an eventuality,” Slaiby said.
The Discoverer is slated to start drilling in the Chukchi Sea next month.
Slaiby says this doesn’t change that plan.
“We will go up to the Arctic fully prepared,” Slaiby said. ” We’ll learn from this incident. I think it is an industry where incidents happen, and the best you can do is learn from the incident and not repeat.”
More specifically, Slaiby says the Discoverer will use eight anchors in the Arctic, as opposed to the single anchor it had on Saturday.
For the time being, the Discoverer will remain anchored in Unalaska Bay, with the Lauren Foss standing by in case of high winds.