Backfire causes small fire aboard Shell drill ship

A small fire on board a Shell Oil drill ship in an Alaska port was quickly extinguished Friday.

Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said the fire started after an engine backfired on the Noble Discover drill ship.

"Upon engine startup this morning, the Noble Discoverer experienced a loud engine backfire followed by a very small residual fire that was quickly extinguished by the crew," Smith said.

The fire was out within five minutes, he said. No one was injured.

"It's not uncommon for a combustion engine to experience a backfire," Smith said.

The backfire likely was heard by everyone in Dutch Harbor, Smith said. The harbor is a major U.S. fishing port and is part of the Aleutian Island community of Unalaska.

Shell did not call in local authorities.

Unalaska Fire Chief Abner Hoage said a dispatcher took a call on a plume of smoke above the vessel at 10:22 a.m.

The vessel was near but not secured to the Coast Guard dock, he said.

Hoage drove to the harbor and was within sight of the vessel within three minutes.

"There was no smoke, no visual indication that anything was going on," he said.

The Noble Discover is one of two drill ships used by Royal Dutch Shell PLC this year in the Arctic Ocean during the short open water season.

The Noble Discover on Sept. 9 began top hole work on a petroleum prospect in the Chukchi Sea about 70 miles off the northwest coast of Alaska. The company was authorized to drill narrow pilot holes about 1,400 feet below the ocean floor but prohibited from drilling into petroleum reservoir at about 5,500 feet until a spill response barge was positioned nearby. Drilling ended for the season Oct. 31.

Arctic offshore drilling is bitterly opposed by environmental groups and some Alaska Natives who say oil companies have not demonstrated they can clean up a major spill in ocean water with ice that can range from giant floes to slush. Shell contends the chance of a blowout in minimal in the relatively shallow Chukchi and Beaufort seas and that response vessels could quickly move in to control a blowout and control a spill.


11/19/2012 - 9:22am