City manager says repairs underway on vessel

Photo/Jim Paulin/For the Journal

Shell is being cautious on whether damage to an ice-handling vessel near Dutch Harbor will affect the company’s 2015 Chukchi Sea exploration. The 380-foot Fennica hit a submerged object, possibly World War II debris, while departing July 3 and was returned to port.

“Repairs may be possible on site (in Dutch Harbor) but that’s still being determined,” Shell spokesman Luke Miller said.

However, Unalaska city manager Don Moore said that the damage can be repaired by a local firm, Resolve Magone Marine Service, and that work has already started on the Fennica at the company’s dock.

Meanwhile, a bottom survey was being done July 8 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel Fairweather along the route taken by the Fennica, and the survey should identify the obstruction encountered by the vessel, Moore said.

A major question is that the Fennica was also equipped to transport and deploy an undersea oil spill containment system Shell is required to have on site. If the vessel cannot be repaired in time for it to get to the Arctic by late July or early August, there could be impacts on Shell’s plans for drilling.

The company may have other vessels in its fleet that can deploy the system, which is required to be on hand when drilling vessels drill down into potential hydrocarbon-bearing zones.

The company has the option, however, of drilling “top holes,” or partly-drilled wells that do not penetrate the hydrocarbon zones, as it did in 2012.

“At this point we do not anticipate any impact on the season but it’s too early to know for sure. Any impact on our season will ultimately depend on the extent of the repairs,” Miller said.

On another issue Shell is wrestling with, the company is still considering possible changes in its plan to deal with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife requirement that drilling vessels be at least 15 miles apart while drilling. Shell’s current drill plan has rigs working nine miles apart.

“We still intend to accomplish meaningful work in the weeks ahead. That includes drilling in the Chukchi Sea,” Miller said. “We have nearly every permit we need to commence operations this summer and that’s what we intend to do.”

Meanwhile, the company’s mobilization is continuing. The semi-submersible Polar Pioneer is in Dutch Harbor while the drillship Noble Discoverer is still en route from Everett, Wash., and is expected to arrive soon, Miller said.

“Most of our fleet is now in Dutch Harbor,” Miller said.

Four support vessels departed Dutch Harbor July 3 for the Arctic including the Fennica, which turned back after being damaged. Vessels now headed north include the Nordica, also an ice-handling vessel and sister ship to the Fennica, the anchor-handling tug Aiviq and the Harvey Explorer.

Meanwhile, the company’s aviation support facilities at Barrow and Wainwright are now operational.

Shell’s plan is to have its fleet in the Arctic in late July or early August but local conditions will affect that, Miller said.

“Right now the ice conditions are looking good,” at the site of the planned drilling, he said.

Shell plans to drill wells at its Burger prospect in the Chukchi, a discovery the company made in the early 1990s when it had previously drilled. The company released the acreage in a 2008 federal Outer Continental Shelf lease sale and was able to return to the site a drill one “top hole,” or partly-completed well, in 2012.

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
11/20/2016 - 3:54pm

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