Shell Gets Approval From Alaska to Move Drilling Ship

Royal Dutch Shell Plc has received approval from the state of Alaska to remove the Arctic drilling ship Kulluk, which ran aground after the vessel broke from a tow boat during a storm on Dec. 31.

The Kulluk is grounded and upright near Sitkalidak Island, on the north edge of Ocean Bay, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of Kodiak, Alaska, according to a statement on the website of the Unified Command in Anchorage. The crew has been evacuated and the vessel isn’t leaking fluid.

The command said it planned to hook a tow line to the Kulluk, depending on local weather and tidal conditions, in preparation for its recovery. Booms will be deployed to Kodiak Island, in particular to help protect salmon streams connected to Ocean Bay, according to the statement.

Shell, in its own statement, said the needed maintenance work on the Kulluk couldn’t have been completed in Alaska and the ship had to be sent to Seattle. The Kulluk’s grounding is the latest setback Shell has faced in its efforts to tap Arctic oil.

Environmental groups said Jan. 3 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.

The decision to move the Kulluk “was based on an approved tow plan, which included weather considerations, and safely executing a planned maintenance schedule for the vessel,” Shell said in an e-mailed statement today. “The plan was always to move the Kulluk in December.”

The Unified Command system includes the U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Kodiak Island Borough and Shell. As much as 143,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of other refined oil-products are currently stored on board the Kulluk, according to the statement.

(Corrects reference for Anchorage in second paragraph of story published Jan. 5.)
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