Shell Oil has run into a number of problems with its Arctic drilling plans over the last few days. The Coast Guard refused to certify its oil spill containment barge as it stands, the EPA is reviewing the Noble Discoverer drill rig’s air permits – and now, there may be damage to the rig itself.
The Noble Discoverer appears to have run aground in Unalaska on Saturday afternoon.
Despite rain and 35-knot winds, more than a dozen residents came to Airport Beach to watch the Shell’s contract tugboat Lauren Foss straining to pull the rig back out to sea.
Longshoreman David Howard was one of the onlookers. Howard says he noticed something wrong with the 500-foot rig earlier in the afternoon.
“I’m just like anybody else driving by, you see it getting closer and closer, you know it’s dragging anchor and that they probably ought to get a tug on it.”
Howard says he thinks the Shell crew got lucky.
“Fortunately, where it got grounded, it was pretty soft in here,” he says. "There’s not a big bunch of sharp rocks out there. It’s fortunate to have gone up here rather than out on the S-curves, where there’s a lot of rocky areas that might compromise the hull."
Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith says the company has activated a dive team to inspect the hull, which could help determine whether the ship actually touched bottom.
Shell is also evaluating the Noble Discoverer’s mooring system to determine how the vessel moved toward shore, he says. But Smith did not say that the ship had run aground.
“Today, while moored off the coast of Dutch Harbor, the Noble Discoverer drill ship drifted toward land and stopped very near the coast,” he says.
The Coast Guard is also investigating the incident.
The Noble Discoverer has been in Unalaska since last Saturday, along with a flotilla of support vessels. It’s supposed to begin drilling in the Chukchi Sea next month.