[Story was updated, adding details, Shell comments]
Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to move its Noble Discoverer drillship and the Kulluk conical drilling unit, centerpieces of Shell’s Alaska Arctic drilling, to Asia for additional inspections and repairs.
The Kulluk, which has remained anchored off of Kodiak Island since its grounding late last year, is to be towed to Dutch Harbor, Alas. Upon finalization of an approved tow plan, the conical drilling unit will be dry towed to a shipyard in Asia with a suitable dry dock. The shipyard was not determined yet.
The Discoverer's operator, Noble Corp., and Shell have decided to dry tow the Discoverer from Seward, Alas., to a shipyard in South Korea.
"The outcome of further inspections for both rigs will determine the shipyard schedule and timing of their return to service. Dry towing is a time-efficient way to get both rigs to suitable shipyards to begin necessary work that will allow us to better assess our options," said a Shell spokesman in Alaska.
"We have not made any final decision on 2013 drilling in Alaska. Mapping the next steps for the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer is a multifaceted operation and today’s update is a result of those new plans being solidified," he added.
In addition to the drilling rig assessments and repairs, a number of investigations and reviews are under way.
"It’s too soon to know what the outcomes of those investigations will be. In the meantime, we are exploring a range of options for exploration work offshore Alaska in 2013," he said. "Shell remains committed to safely exploring for Alaska's offshore energy resources."
The Kulluk was driven aground by violent weather on the southeast shoreline of the uninhabited Sitkalidak Island on Dec. 31, 2012, while under tow to Seattle. The incident resulted in no significant injuries and no environmental impact. After weather delays, the drilling unit was towed Jan. 7 to a safe harbor about 30 miles from where it ran aground (OGJ Online, Jan. 7, 2013).
In December 2012, Noble said it was working to fix deficiencies and maintenance issues raised by the US Coast Guard during an inspection of the drillship following a drilling season offshore Alaska (OGJ Online, Dec. 27, 2012).
The US Environmental Protection Agency said the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer drillship violated numerous conditions of air-quality permits while drilling off Alaska last year (OGJ Online, Jan. 11, 2012).