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Shell departs Arctic until 2013

November 18th, 2012 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

Shell Oil's drill rigs have departed the Arctic as of Nov. 7, with at least one of them headed for winter berthing in Unalaska, company representatives said last week.

The Noble Discoverer, which was drilling the initial part of an exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea, headed south at the end of October as planned. The Kulluk, however, was delayed in its departure by rough weather. A story published in Popular Mechanics highlighted some of the challenges the Kulluk faced as it tried to demobilize from the Arctic. Helicopter transportation of crew from the rig was hampered by the weather, as was refueling operations.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said last Thursday, however, that such delays were not unexpected, and indicative of the safety measures the company operates under. While the report noted slushy ice in the region prior to departure, such ice conditions were no threat to the Kulluk, which has reportedly spent many winters frozen into the Canadian arctic ice. The tug Aiviq tasked with bringing the Kulluk back south is also equipped to handle ice at least a meter thick, the article said.

Both drill rigs completed initial work on the top half of two wells, a significant modification from the five wells the company had planned to drill completely in 2012. Certification of a necessary oil spill response barge, as well as ice that lingered late into the summer, delayed operations this year.

Both ships left in place their complicated anchoring systems. The Discoverer uses eight anchors to lock it in place over each well. The Kulluk uses 12, with a spread of a mile, Smith said. Leaving the cables on the ocean floor is not an environmental concern, Smith said, and analysis of ice gouging in the area indicated no multi-year ice would come into contact with the anchors. Leaving them in place will save several days work, Smith said.

While the Noble Discoverer's winter home is still up in the air, the Kulluk will be spending the winter season in Unalaska. A special dock was built there for the rig two years ago, Smith said.


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