Coverage of Shell's troubled Kulluk drill rig

Craig Medred

Royal Dutch Shell's multibillion-dollar hopes for smooth Arctic offshore drilling have hit some significant speedbumps along the way. Those include numerous problems with several of its drilling and response vessels, including the drillship Noble Discoverer -- which was forced to stay in port in December thanks to safety and pollution control issues -- and its planned oil-spill response vessel, the Arctic Challenger. A containment dome intended to contain a spill in the event of an undersea blowout was "crushed like a beer can" during testing, preventing the ship from traveling north with the rest of the Shell fleet in 2012.

But no issue thus far has been quite as dramatic -- or as damaging -- as the grounding of the Kulluk, Shell's 266-foot offshore drill unit.

Here's the quick and dirty: the Kulluk left port in Dutch Harbor in late December, hauled by the vessel Aiviq and destined for port in Washington state for wintertime repairs and maintenance. On Dec. 27, the Aiviq lost power to several of its engines in high seas in the Gulf of Alaska, and eventually lost its connection to the unpowered Kulluk, casting it adrift amid a subtropical cyclone that swept in. Despite repeated attempts by Shell and the Coast Guard to re-establish a tow, the Kulluk found itself grounded on New Year's Eve on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island, just south of the island of Kodiak.

On Jan. 6, the Kulluk was finally refloated and transported 30 miles north to the relative shelter of Kiliuda Bay on that latter island, and was awaiting inspection for any damage to its thick, steel, ice-capable hull. But regardless of the damage to the rig, the damage to Shell's Arctic aspirations was already clear, with potential congressional inquiries and increased scrutiny on the company going forward.

  1. 1 Despite 'heroic' actions, grounding of Kulluk rig couldn't be prevented

    Coast Guard Capt. Paul Mehler commended the evacuation team and the actions of the captains who tried to maneuver the Kulluk drilling rig through “horrific” winter sea conditions in the Gulf of Alaska.

  2. 2 Engine failure plagued Kulluk tug, Aiviq, prior to rig's grounding

    During testimony, Friday, investigators learned that engine and electrical problems had plagued the Aiviq -- Shell's tug for its offshore Arctic drill rig, the Kulluk -- prior to the ill-fated late December journey across the Gulf of Alaska that ended abruptly off Sitkalidak Island.

  3. 3 Concerns over Kulluk tax bill factored into Shell's winter Gulf of Alaska crossing

    A Shell manager testified Saturday that a potential tax bill was one of the main reasons behind the decision to move the Arctic-ready conical drilling unit Kulluk through the notoriously stormy winter Gulf of Alaska.

  4. 4 Did Shell's Kulluk cross Gulf of Alaska too hastily?

    A window of good weather and a bid to ensure Royal Dutch Shell had more time to prepare for the 2013 drilling season were major reasons an ill-fated drilling rig was moved across the Gulf of Alaska in midwinter.

  5. 5 Will Arctic offshore oil drilling prove uneconomic in wake of US shale oil boom?

    Shell Oil drilled exploratory wells off Alaska's northwest coast in the 1980s only to abandon the prospects as oil prices went bust. Could shale oil plays across the U.S. doom its latest Arctic program?

  6. 6 Inspection of Shell drill rig Kulluk show fuel tanks intact

    Nearly three weeks after Shell's drilling rig grounded on a far-flung Alaska island, divers have completed gathering data on damage to the vessel.

  7. 7 In Kodiak, moving Kulluk can wait until Tanner crab season ends

    Kodiak fishermen hoping to bring in 660,000 pounds of Tanner crab in the coming days are also hoping that Shell Oil’s troubled drill rig Kulluk won’t negatively impact their season.

  8. 8 Why did Kulluk leave Dutch Harbor? Essential repairs to be made in Seattle.

    Shell official says a busy fishing season and unpredictable flights forced its Arctic drilling fleet to Seattle for the summer, not concerns over state taxes as suggested prior to the grounding of its drilling rig.

  9. 9 Congress asks Shell about tax dodge statement before Kulluk grounding

    Did Royal Dutch Shell risk property and prestige to escape $6 million in state of Alaska oil and gas taxes? Rep. Ed Markey, a powerful Massachusetts Democrat, wants to know.

  10. 10 New body blow for Shell: Notices of air-quality violations on drill rigs

    The EPA determined that Shell had multiple permit violations on the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer during the 2012 drilling season off Alaska's North Slope.

  11. 11 Several probes will examine Kulluk drill rig -- and other Shell problems

    The Interior Department probe, due in 60 days, will examine what happened to the Kulluk as well as what was learned from the 2012 drilling season off the northern shores of Alaska. 

  12. 12 Shell drill rig finds safe home for now, crews check for damage

    Going forward, there are far more questions than answers -- politically and operationally -- after the stranded Shell drill rig Kulluk was moved to a temporary new home Monday.

  13. 13 Shell oil rig successfully towed 30 miles to safer Kodiak Island bay in Alaska

    Sheltered in Kiliuda Bay, the vexed Shell drilling rig will be examined more closely to see whether its grounding caused damage.

  14. 14 Shell game: Gulf of Alaska storms vs. Kulluk drilling rig

    ANALYSIS: The North Pacific is one of the planet's stormiest regions during midwinter. Shell Oil made a misguided and poorly informed decision to move a huge drilling platform (the Kulluk) from Dutch Harbor Alaska to Seattle starting Dec. 21. 

  15. 15 Damaged rig will move to Kodiak's Kiliuda Bay. But when?

    After days of stalled attempts and little movement, plans for getting the grounded Kulluk drilling rig removed from beach it rests on are starting to take shape.

  16. 16 In Old Harbor, hitting the rock

    An oil rig grounded: In small town Alaska, how politics and power create opportunity amidst a nationally-watched marine mishap.

  17. 17 Photos: Life in Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, Alaska

    Early January in Old Harbor, Alaska offers reminders that weather is a force humans are wise to respect.

  18. 18 Shell will attempt to hook tow-line to grounded Kulluk drill rig

    Shell Oil planned to attempt and hook a tow line to its grounded oil rig, the Kulluk in attempts to determine whether, when and how the mobile drilling unit can be recovered.

  19. 19 Crews continue trips to grounded Shell drill rig, vessels build up to assist

    Though not much changed on Friday with the grounded Shell drill unit Kulluk, authorities continued making trips to the stranded rig, trying to get a salvage plan together.

  20. 20 Fuel tanks of grounded oil rig Kulluk facing toward Gulf of Alaska -- away from rocky beach

    Although assessment crews have identified some damage to the topside of the grounded Kulluk, and the condition of the hull is so far unreported, schematics indicate that the rig's fuel tanks aren't resting directly on the rocky shore.

  21. 21 Did Alaska tax liability influence Shell Oil's latest Arctic fiasco?

    Why would one of the world's wealthiest corporations risk property and prestige to escape a paltry couple million dollars of state of Alaska oil and gas taxes? 

  22. 22 Shell hoped to save millions in taxes by moving now-grounded drill rig out of Alaska

    Hoping to save millions in Alaska taxes, the Shell drill rig Kulluk left Dutch Harbor on Dec. 21, bound for Washington state. Ten days later, it had run aground in the Gulf of Alaska.

  23. 23 Photos: Trials, mishaps of Shell's Kulluk drill rig in Alaska

    As the year 2012 drew to a close, Shell Oil's offshore drilling program in the U.S. Arctic took a dramatic turn for the worse as one of its mobile drill rigs, the Kulluk, was lost in the Gulf of Alaska, eventually grounding off Kodiak Island.

  24. 24 Weather lull allows Salvage crew to board, evaluate grounded Shell drill rig

    Rocky perch: The unpowered drill rig Kulluk, owned by Arctic offshore oil explorer Royal Dutch Shell, remains grounded on an Alaska island at the edge of the stormy North Pacific.

  25. 25 Waves pound fuel-laden Shell Oil drill rig run aground in Gulf of Alaska (+VIDEO)

    US Coast Guardsmen deliver staging materials to Shell Oil's abandoned oil rig off the coast of Sitkalidak, a small barrier island south of Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska. 

  26. 26 FAA restricts air zone around grounded Shell Oil drilling rig off Alaska coast (+MAP)

    Coast Guard flyovers were planned for Wednesday to further evaluate the situation of Shell's grounded drill rig, the Kulluk, and to see whether salvage crews can safely board the vessel.

  27. 27 Will Shell's grounded drilling ship impact US energy policy in Arctic?

    All eyes are watching Shell's attempt to salvage its drilling rig, grounded on a rocky Alaska shore near southeastern Kodiak Island, as U.S. energy policy could be affected.

  28. 28 Salvage crews await weather as Shell's grounded Arctic drill rig sways in place

    A Royal Dutch Shell drilling ship that ran aground on New Year's Eve near Kodiak Island is rocking in place and apparently not leaking any fuel or other products. An investigation will be conducted about what caused the rig to escape control.

  29. 29 Efforts intensify to haul drilling rig to safety before next big storm hits Kodiak

    The Coast Guard said it planned to tow the Kulluk to safe harbor at Port Hobron on the southeast side of Kodiak Island during a lull in storms that have battered the area.  

  30. 30 Coast Guard cutter comes to aid of troubled Shell ship, drilling rig

    The tug Aiviq experienced multiple engine failures, according the Coast Guard, which has said it is coordinating its response with Shell.