Kulluk underway en route to Beaufort, second drill ship to depart this week

Things are starting to break for Shell.

The drilling vessel Kulluk is now finally en route to the Arctic from Dutch Harbor, and will arrive in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea is about two weeks, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said Aug. 21.

The Kulluk departed Dutch Harbor, a fisheries port in the Aleutian Islands, at 10 a.m. Aug. 20, Smith said. The Kulluk is a conical mobile drill structure built for Arctic offshore drilling that is owned by Shell.

“Once in the Beaufort Sea, the Kulluk will remain on standby until the fall subsistence whale hunt is over," for Inupiat Eskimo whalers, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said.

The Kulluk is being towed by two tugs, the Guardian and the Warrior.

A second vessel in Shell’s fleet, the drillship Noble Discoverer, which will drill in the Chukchi Sea, is still in Dutch Harbor but is expected to depart later this week.

Meanwhile, a spill response barge chartered by Shell to support its drilling is still in Bellingham, Wash., undergoing U.S. Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping inspections, Smith said.

"We are making progress with the barge but we are still days away from sailing," he said.

Completion and final inspections of the spill response barge has been plagued by delays, partly over uncertainties within the Coast Guard and the ABS over the standards to apply to new equipment on the barge for certification, according to marine industry sources speaking on background.

The barge, leased by Shell and retrofitted with spill cleanup and containment equipment, must be on station in the Arctic before Shell can drill and complete exploration wells.

Shell has spent over $4.5 billion on its Arctic exploration program since 2007 but has been plagued by setbacks, initially by litigation and then by a revamping of government rules following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

With the new government rules in place, Shell mobilized its fleet of two drillships and support vessels that exceed 20 ships, but was then delayed by the late breakup of Arctic ice and most recently by the inspection delays on the barge.

The ice is now clearing in areas where Shell wants to drill.

08/21/2012 - 7:15am