Shell Drilling in Arctic

Shell Begins Drilling Well in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea
by Dow Jones Newswires
|
Angel Gonzalez
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Monday, September 10, 2012

                   After a six-year wait and clearance of countless hurdles, Royal  Dutch Shell PLC's U.S. unit said Sunday it had begun drilling in  Alaska's Chukchi Sea.

This is the first time in more than two decades that the oil industry gets access to the U.S. offshore Arctic. If successful, Shell’s foray could pave the way for the exploitation of one of the world’s last oil frontiers.
Shell’s bid to tap the Arctic’s vaunted offshore oil and gas riches has met with resistance from environmentalists, strict scrutiny from cautious regulators and persistent sea ice. Now the Anglo-Dutch oil giant must cram as much drilling activity as it can in a short window that lasts through late September in the Chukchi Sea and late October in the Beaufort Sea, depending on weather forecasts.
One of the two drillships Shell has leased for the Alaska drilling campaign, the Noble Discoverer (mid-water drillship), early Sunday began digging the so-called top hole of a prospect dubbed Burger. It will include a 1,400-feet-deep pilot well and a 20-by-40-foot hole right beneath the seabed, which will house the blow-out preventer, a valve that is designed to kill any unexpected gushers. Burying the blow-out preventer in that fashion protects it from sea ice, Shell said.
The process could take about two weeks, after which it could either proceed to drill the entire well to a depth of between 7,000 and 9,000 feet, or move the rig to another location and drill a similar top hole, said Peter Slaiby, Shell’s vice president for Alaska operations. The process to drill a well down to its target depth, from initial work to completion, lasts about a month, he said. This year Shell plans to do work in up to five wells, three in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Beaufort Sea.
Right now, the company has permission from U.S. authorities to drill only the top part of the wells; a permit to drill in oil-bearing areas can be granted onl after an Arctic spill-containment system is in place, the U.S. Department of Interior has said. The containment system is being tested in Washington State and would require about two weeks to sail to the location, Shell said.
The U.S. government is closely watching the operation; regulators with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees offshore drilling, were present aboard the drillship that began working Sunday. “The public wants to be assured this is done right,” Mr. Slaiby said.
Mr. Slaiby added that drilling these wells, which are located in shallow waters, does not represent major technical challenges, and that sea conditions are more benign here than in the North Sea, for example. The challenge comes from the remoteness of the operation, ice features and low temperatures, he said.
Shell’s efforts, however, continues to be strongly criticized by environmentalists. Dan Howells, Greenpeace’s deputy campaigns director, said in a statement that "whatever Shell is able to do in the narrow window between now and when the sea ice returns, it won’t erase the clear evidence we’ve seen in the past two months that there’s no such thing as safe drilling in the Arctic."
Mr. Howells pointed to logistical failures in Shell’s drilling plan. In July, the Noble Discoverer broke loose from its moorings while anchored off the Alaskan coast. “They’ve only proven one thing this summer, that oil companies are simply not equipped to deal with the unique challenges of operating in the Arctic,” Mr. Howells said.

I hate to say it but after all the ridiculous drama of the summer to get here, the whole thing now seems so terribly anti-climatic. Just a little pizzle is all Shell has left to sputter.

Oh well there’s still next year and then the decades after that. Too bad Shell will still be shacked up with that toothless stretchmarked meth addict when they could be married to a supermodel.

Shell Suffers Alaska Oil Drilling Setback After Dome Damage
By Will Kennedy and Eduard Gismatullin - Sep 17, 2012 5:13 AM ET

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Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Europe’s largest oil company, was forced to scrap plans to drill for oil off Alaska this year after a containment dome designed to cap a spill was damaged.

The need for repairs won’t leave enough time to drill deep enough to find oil this year, The Hague-based Shell said today in a statement. It will instead drill a number of so-called top holes, preparing the way for a renewed exploration campaign next year. Shell had planned to invest $1 billion in exploration off Alaska this year.
Enlarge image Shell Suffers Alaska Oil Drilling Setback After Dome Damage

Shell-contracted icebreaker preparing to sail for the Arctic. Photographer: Markku Ulander/AFP/Getty Images
Enlarge image Shell Suffers Alaska Oil Drilling Setback After Dome Damage

Shell had planned to invest $1 billion in exploration off Alaska this year. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

“We are disappointed that the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards, but as we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely,” Shell said.

After six years of preparation, Shell started drilling this month in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea after obtaining a permit from the U.S. Interior Department. Shell has invested $4.5 billion on the offshore leases and equipment and fought at least 50 lawsuits from environmental groups opposing the first wells in the Arctic waters in about 20 years.

“Investors must now be asking whether investing such vast sums of money trying to exploit the fragile Arctic is really worth it,” Ben Ayliffe, a campaigner at Greenpeace, said in an e-mailed statement.
Sea Ice

The company was only able to drill for about a day and had to suspend operations to move the rig to avoid encroaching sea ice. In July, the U.S. Coast Guard had to inspect the Noble Discoverer drillship when it slipped its mooring and drifted toward shore in the Aleutian Islands. The rig crew didn’t report any damage.

The drillship will resume drilling operations at the Burger A prospect in the Chukchi Sea in the coming days, Shell said. The company also plans to start exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

Shell had planned to start exploration in July. It had to modify the Arctic Challenger barge, brought in to help collect any oil spilled in case of a well blowout, to satisfy U.S. Coast Guard requirements.

Shell fell 0.7 percent to 2,246 pence at 9:39 a.m. in London.

Shell is revisiting Burger, which was discovered in the 1990s and may hold about 1.8 billion barrels of oil equivalent resources, Theepan Jothilingam, an oil analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in London, said in a Sept. 10 report citing Wood Mackenzie estimates. Possible discoveries in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas could generate $10 billion in value for Shell, Jothilingam said.

“We understand the original well was drilled at the crest and found gas condensate,” he wrote. “Shell intends to drill this time around the flanks and to target oil.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eduard Gismatullin in London at egismatullin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at wkennedy3@bloomberg.net

Bloomberg News is reporting on TV this morning — just a crawler at the bottom of the screen — that Shell have given up on Arctic drilling plans for 2012.

[QUOTE=tugsailor;82675]Bloomberg News is reporting on TV this morning — just a crawler at the bottom of the screen — that Shell have given up on Arctic drilling plans for 2012.[/QUOTE]

This from Bloomberg earlier this AM pretty much confirms

[U][/U][B]Shell Suffers Alaska Oil Drilling Setback After Dome Damage[/B]

By Will Kennedy and Eduard Gismatullin -
Sep 17, 2012 4:13 AM CT

Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Europe’s largest oil company, was forced to scrap plans to drill for oil off Alaska this year after a containment dome designed to cap a spill was damaged.

The need for repairs won’t leave enough time to drill deep enough to find oil this year, The Hague-based Shell said today in a statement. It will instead drill a number of so-called top holes, preparing the way for a renewed exploration campaign next year. Shell had planned to invest $1 billion in exploration off Alaska this year.

Shell had planned to invest $1 billion in exploration off Alaska this year. “We are disappointed that the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards, but as we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely,” Shell said.

After six years of preparation, Shell started drilling this month in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea after obtaining a permit from the U.S. Interior Department. Shell has invested $4.5 billion on the offshore leases and equipment and fought at least 50 lawsuits from environmental groups opposing the first wells in the Arctic waters in about 20 years.

“Investors must now be asking whether investing such vast sums of money trying to exploit the fragile Arctic is really worth it,” Ben Ayliffe, a campaigner at Greenpeace, said in an e-mailed statement.

Sea Ice

The company was only able to drill for about a day and had to suspend operations to move the rig to avoid encroaching sea ice. In July, the U.S. Coast Guard had to inspect the Noble Discoverer drillship when it slipped its mooring and drifted toward shore in the Aleutian Islands. The rig crew didn’t report any damage.

The drillship will resume drilling operations at the Burger A prospect in the Chukchi Sea in the coming days, Shell said. The company also plans to start exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

Shell had planned to start exploration in July. It had to modify the Arctic Challenger barge, brought in to help collect any oil spilled in case of a well blowout, to satisfy U.S. Coast Guard requirements.

Shell fell 0.7 percent to 2,246 pence at 9:39 a.m. in London.

Shell is revisiting Burger, which was discovered in the 1990s and may hold about 1.8 billion barrels of oil equivalent resources, Theepan Jothilingam, an oil analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in London, said in a Sept. 10 report citing Wood Mackenzie estimates. Possible discoveries in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas could generate $10 billion in value for Shell, Jothilingam said.

“We understand the original well was drilled at the crest and found gas condensate,” he wrote. “Shell intends to drill this time around the flanks and to target oil.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Eduard Gismatullin in London

Well they say they will stay to drill the topholes and spud in the wells but with their record so far I am sceptical that they will even get this accomplished before they have to leave on the 24th for the DISCO. That’s only a week away and there is no news that they are back on anchors. The KULLUK might get something done tho since they don’t have to leave till next month. The KULLUK isn’t nearly as hapless as the DISCO, but that piece of shit will be back next year because Shell is just too deep into the ship. Too bad.

A little more clarity on what happened with that test in Bellingham over the weekend

[U][/U][B]Shell abandons Alaska offshore drilling efforts until next year[/B]

By Kim Murphy
September 17, 2012, 12:53 a.m.

Shell Alaska said Monday it has abandoned its efforts to drill into hydrocarbon deposits in the offshore Arctic after the latest in a series of glitches on the company’s troubled oil containment barge resulted in damage to the high-tech dome designed to contain oil in the event of an underwater spill.

Company officials said they will continue to drill “top holes” off the Alaskan coast through the end of this season’s drilling window, but will not attempt to reach any oil deposits this year – a serious but not fatal setback for the company, which has spent six years attempting to explore its outer continental shelf leases off the coast of Alaska.

“This critical program … could be an important national resource for the next several decades, and we are committed to doing it safely and responsibly,” Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “We’re not going to rush things for the sake of a few days this season.”

The latest setback involves the oil containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, which has been delayed in Bellingham, Wash., undergoing a trouble-plagued retrofit overseen by Superior Marine Technical Services, a Shell contractor.

The vessel has been unable for weeks to win U.S. Coast Guard certification, following problems with some onboard safety systems, along with trouble fixing good stowage for the ship’s anchor chocks and the boom designed to flare gas in the event of a spill. Coast Guard officials documented four minor illegal fluid discharges from the vessel while it was moored in Bellingham.

Federal authorities have not allowed Shell to plumb into hydrocarbon deposits until the barge is on site in the Arctic, but the multimillion-dollar upgrade has been delayed with one problem after another while attempting to win certification from the Coast Guard.

The refurbishment was completed last week and the vessel underwent sea trials in Washington’s Puget Sound, and a series of tests were successfully completed on the newly designed Arctic containment system, Op de Weegh said.

“However, during a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged,” she said.

Sources familiar with the testing said the mishap occurred when one of several clump weights was placed into about 160 feet of water to mark the area of a theoretical oil spill, to see if the containment dome aboard the barge could be lowered over it.

“When they came back to find it, it [the weight] was lost, submerged into the silt,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation.

Engineers launched a mini-submarine known as a Remotely Operated Vehicle, which is part of Shell’s plan for putting any oil spill containment equipment into place, to help get the oil containment dome carried aboard the Challenger set over the “leak.”

“They got some of the weights set to hold the dome, then one of the eight winches on the dome became inoperative,” the source said. “They attempted to discover what was wrong by using the ROV, and got it tangled in the anchor lines of the dome and it sank into the silt.”

Divers were then dispatched to the sea floor to try to recover the dome without damaging the high-tech umbilical that controls it, he said.

It was not clear how much damage the dome ultimately suffered, but it apparently was enough to prompt Shell to abandon its well-drilling plans for the current season.

Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Paul Rhynard, in an email to The Times on Friday, acknowledged that there were “ROV issues” during the testing but said they had no bearing on Coast Guard certification of the vessel.

Still, Shell officials said they would be able to drill “top holes” on some wells in order to be ready to quickly commence operations in the summer of 2013.

"We will begin as many wells … as time remaining in this season allows,” Op de Weegh said. “The top portion of the wells drilled in the days and weeks ahead will be safely capped this year, in accordance with regulatory requirements.”

Shell had commenced drilling an initial well in the Chukchi Sea earlier this month, but was forced to shut down the operation and move away when a large ice floe began approaching.

The ice has proceeded southwesterly and company officials said they are hopeful they can reposition the rig and commence drilling again in the next day or two.

In the Beaufort Sea, Shell is awaiting the conclusion of the fall Inupiat Eskimo whaling season, which could end as early as this week, before launching drilling operations there.

kim.murphy@latimes.com

Time to blame the refit contractors and save face. “It’s all their fault and the proper people have been sacked.”

[QUOTE=Fraqrat;82689]Time to blame the refit contractors and save face. “It’s all their fault and the proper people have been sacked.”[/QUOTE]

If I were a major shareholder I’d be screaming at Shell to clean house this winter and sack anybody connected to the ARCTIC CHALLENGER up to and including Peter Slaiby. This season was too painful to ever be repeated and the confidence in the team Shell has now should be thoroughly trashed by the investor community. Whatever role Superior Energy has on the CHALLENGER (wasn’t that also a space shuttle that went boom?) failure, the responsibility is owned by Shell and the people Shell entrusted to be 100% ready to drill in 2012. No question that there are identifiable persons and I would demand their heads on a platter before Christmas!

I’d like to know more about the ice flow. Some reports said 30 miles long and 12 miles wide. How thick? It must have had some thickness to hold together while drifting so far into ice free waters, but it seems unlikely that it very thick.

Did the they try out AIVIQ and their other vessels on this ice sheet to see how they actually perform in the ice, and to give the crew some ice management experience?

Did they try towing the ice to divert its course away from the drilling site — as they use to do (maybe still do) in Newfoundland?

Our Arctic oil resources are vitally important to our economy and security. As a nation, I don’t think we can afford to put all our eggs in Shell’s basket. Shell and its contractors have proven to be the gang that can’t shoot straight. I have no confidence that Shell will actually get Arctic oil development underway in 2013.

We need to encourage at least one more highly capable operator to start drilling in the Arctic next season.

As much as I hate to say it, its time to bring in the Norwegians with the best know how and equipment (as long as they have to hire some American “trainees”) to find out if the US Arctic actually contains commercially viable oil.

I think next year will be good to go. From what I saw down here it was just rushed too much and a lot was overlooked. Hopefully they will take a step back a properly put this stuff together over the next few months.

Just FYI, here is Shell’s official statement that sparked ALL the media reports.

17 Sep 2012

Royal Dutch Shell (“Shell”) is engaged in a multi-year drilling programme to explore for new oil & gas resources in high-potential blocks in offshore Alaska. Important progress has been made with this programme, with two drill ships, more than twenty support vessels, an approved capping stack, and other redundant oil spill response equipment already in position. Shell continues to demonstrate the strength and extent of its Arctic preparations.

Over the last several days, Shell has successfully completed a series of tests of the first-ever Arctic Containment System. However, during a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged. It is clear that some days will be required to repair and fully assess dome readiness. We are disappointed that the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards; but, as we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely.

The time required to repair the dome, along with steps we have taken to protect local whaling operations and to ensure the safety of operations from ice floe movement, have led us to revise our plans for the 2012-2013 exploration program. In order to lay a strong foundation for operations in 2013, we will forgo drilling into hydrocarbon zones this year. Instead, we will begin as many wells, known as ‘top holes,’ as time remaining in this season allows. The top portion of the wells drilled in the days and weeks ahead will be safely capped and temporarily abandoned this year, in accordance with regulatory requirements. We look forward to the final receipt of our drilling permits for the multi-year exploration program upon the successful testing and deployment of the Arctic Containment System.

These capabilities have, most recently, been evident in Shell’s ice management operations as it successfully moved one of its drill ships and support vessels safely out of the path of approaching sea ice. That drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, is expected to resume its position and drilling operations over the ‘Burger A’ prospect in the days ahead.

Also, in the coming days, Shell is expected to begin exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea. These operations will follow the conclusion of the fall whale hunt and the anticipated receipt of a top hole drilling permit.

We have tested and assembled drill ships and support vessels, trained personnel, and acquired numerous final approved plans and permits. This exploration program remains critically important to America’s energy needs, to the economy and jobs in Alaska, and to Shell.

From FUEL FIX

Shell gets OK from feds to drill in Beaufort Sea
Posted on September 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm by Jennifer A. Dlouhy in Drilling, Shell, arctic
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Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk
Murkowski and Parnell
Kulluk engine
Murkowski on the Discoverer
derrick on the Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk's backup BOP
Aiviq and Discoverer
Discoverer
Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk
Murkowski and Parnell
Kulluk engine
Murkowski on the Discoverer
derrick on the Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk's backup BOP
Aiviq and Discoverer
Discoverer
Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk
Murkowski and Parnell
Kulluk engine
Murkowski on the Discoverer
derrick on the Kulluk
Kulluk
Kulluk's backup BOP
Aiviq and Discoverer
Discoverer

The Kulluk conical drilling rig is docked in the Vigor shipyard in Seattle, where it has undergone refurbishments meant to ready the 1980s-era conical drilling rig for Arctic drilling this summer. (Jennifer A. Dlouhy / The Houston Chronicle)

Although federal regulators today gave Shell the green light to begin initial drilling operations in the Beaufort Sea, that work will wait until native Alaskans finish their fall hunt of the bowhead whale migrating through the area.

With the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s decision, Shell soon will be able to begin the same kind of top-hole drilling and site preparation in the Beaufort that it launched earlier this month in the neighboring Chukchi Sea.

Shell officials have already conceded they will not attempt to drill into underground zones that could contain oil and gas, because an emergency spill containment system isn’t ready and won’t be on site before ice moves in and closes down exploration this year.

Under the permit approved today, Shell will be able to dig a hole in the sea floor to hold a blowout preventer that will be used to safeguard against unexpected surges in oil and gas from the wellhead. By putting the BOP underground, the company aims to keep it out of the way of unexpected large ice floes that could otherwise damage the equipment.

The company also will be able to bore a pilot hole roughly 1,400 feet below the sea floor to check for unexpected obstructions or pockets of oil and gas, before eventually widening that hole and filling it with pipe and cement. The federal permit will allow Shell to complete the first two casing strings at the well using its Kulluk conical drilling rig.

“BSEE has set the bar high for exploration activities in the Arctic, and any approved operations must meet those standards,” said the agency’s director, Jim Watson, in a statement. “BSEE continues to closely monitor Shell’s ongoing approved preparatory drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea, and today’s approval of limited work in the Beaufort Sea must also meet the same rigorous safety, environmental protection and emergency response standards.”

Shell president Marvin Odum said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle on Monday that he hopes the top-hole drilling this year to lay the foundation for Shell to complete wells next year.

Shell estimates that about half of the time it will take to drill its Arctic wells to their target depth is consumed by initial drilling and site preparation.

The company has made plans to complete up to 10 wells by the end of the 2013 Arctic drilling season.

Under an agreement reached with native Alaskans and codified in the government’s conditional approval of Shell’s broad drilling blueprint, the company is waiting for the conclusion of the seasonal bowhead whale hunt before conducting operations in the Beaufort Sea.

Environmentalists have been sharply critical of Shell’s Arctic drilling plans and say that there is no proven way to clean up oil if it spilled in the cold, remote waters.

Dan Ritzman, the Arctic program director for the Sierra Club, noted that “ice is already starting to re-form in the Arctic.”

“Given Shell’s recent inability to even successfully test its oil spill response system in calm waters, allowing it to move forward now, even with limited drilling, exposes the Arctic’s incredible wildlife to harmful noise and puts the local subsistence cultures at risk,” Ritzman said.
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Jennifer A. Dlouhy
Jennifer A. Dlouhy
Jennifer A. Dlouhy covers energy policy and other issues for The Houston Chronicle and other Hearst Newspapers from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on legal affairs for Congressional Quarterly. She also has worked at The Beaumont Enterprise, The San Antonio Express-News and other newspapers. Jennifer enjoys cooking, gardening and hiking. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and infant son.
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AMSTERDAM — Royal Dutch Shell PLC is suing Greenpeace International in Dutch court in an attempt to end protests against its plans to drill for offshore oil in the Arctic Sea.

Shell wants the environmental organization fined $1.3 million if any of its members approach within 500 yards of any Shell property.

The suit shows Shell going on an offensive to protect its $4.5 billion investment in two projects off the coast of Alaska it says will create hundreds of jobs.

Greenpeace says Artic drilling is harmful and risky and has protested with publicity stunts around the world. The trigger for Friday’s suit was a Sept. 14 protest in which activists blocked Shell gas stations in the Netherlands by clamping gas pumps together with bike locks.

According to this item quoted from the Dutch Harbor Telegraph:

Disco returns from the Arctic
The drill ship Noble Discoverer arrived in Dutch Harbor Wednesday morning after completing a drilling season in the Arctic. Word on the docks is Disco, as the vessel is known in the industry, will winter in Alaska, hopefully in drydock. She’ll be towed to Seward as soon as the weather looks good.

The photo of the DISCO did not copy from the DH Telegraph

[QUOTE=tugsailor;88594]Disco returns from the Arctic
The drill ship Noble Discoverer arrived in Dutch Harbor Wednesday morning after completing a drilling season in the Arctic. Word on the docks is Disco, as the vessel is known in the industry, will winter in Alaska, [B][I]hopefully in drydock[/I][/B]. She’ll be towed to Seward as soon as the weather looks good.[/QUOTE]

Why in drydock…so she won’t roll over enroute?

WHAT A STOOGE SHOW!

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/small-fire-shell-oil-arctic-drilling-rig-dutch-harbor-doused-quickly

[QUOTE=rshrew;88646]http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/small-fire-shell-oil-arctic-drilling-rig-dutch-harbor-doused-quickly[/QUOTE]

They’re gonna have a hard time staying at that dock all winter, if that’s the plan.

Williwaw anyone?

[QUOTE=SeaSick;88654]They’re gonna have a hard time staying at that dock all winter, if that’s the plan.

Williwaw anyone?[/QUOTE]

I hope if feels like being in prison onboard all winter there and nobody getting to hit all the bars on Fourth Street. Oh those bright lights so close but so very far away and out of reach!

What a wonderfully fitting punishment for such a hapless bunch having to spend the whole winter at the dock in Alaska and not being able to drink!

Couldn’t happen to a nicer crew…enjoy your time in HELL boys!

oh, if that fucking pig of a drillship had only burned down to the waterline how fitting that would have been!

[B][U]Noble Discoverer stack fire contained by Shell Oil personnel[/U][/B]

Eric Christopher Adams, Alex DeMarban | Nov 16, 2012

A drill rig involved in Shell Oil’s inaugural season of Arctic oil exploration briefly caught fire Friday morning in Dutch Harbor, an international port in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, according to the Unalaska Fire Department.

Firefighters responded to calls of a fire at the U.S. Coast Guard docks at 10:22 a.m. Friday, where a plume of black smoke was seen coming off of a vessel, according to Unalaska Fire Chief Abner Hoage. As firefighters approached the docks there was an explosion aboard the Noble Discoverer, Hoage said.

The rig wasn’t actually docked but was still hooked to tugs and its planks were not yet down. Hoage said responding firefighters spoke with the captain, who declined Unalaska fire department assistance since Shell’s on-board personnel had the small flame under control.

Curtis Smith, Shell’s Alaska spokesman, said the small “flash fire” was put out immediately, adding no one was injured and the ship was never in danger. Smith described it as an engine backfire in the rig stack, a description Hoage compared to a car backfiring. Such fires are common aboard ships and happen when residual gases and fumes, left over in exhaust stacks, combust.

“Ever seen a small flame out of a car when it backfires? This is the same. It is a minor issue. It is not an incident,” Smith added.

Others described it a bit differently. Peggy McLaughlin, Unalaska ports director, told KUCB Radio that she felt the blast in her office, about 200 yards away.

“It was almost like a backfire, a ginormous … backfire is what I would equate it to, but because of the size of the vessel, it was pretty big. And when we looked out we could actually see the smoke coming out of the top of the landing pad there and so it was one of those, ‘we need to make a call and make sure it doesn’t get out of control,’” McLaughlin said in the KUCB report.
Shell blazes Arctic trail under intense scrutiny

Shell used the 514-foot ship to launch preliminary well work this summer. It was the first such work offshore in the U.S. Arctic in two decades, and the project has been under intense scrutiny due largely to environmental concerns related to drilling in the pristine Arctic.

Preliminary drilling that did not reach oil-bearing zones began this year. Shell hopes to return next year to drill into deeper zones and find oil.

Shell’s program slipped well behind schedule this year thanks largely to delays in completing an overhaul of a unique oil-capturing barge it’s required to have on scene before deep drilling. Coastal sea ice that lingered longer than usual and wayward ice floes also helped put the work off track.

The Noble Discoverer is the same ship that drifted on its moorings in Unalaska earlier this year, leading Arctic drilling opponents to question whether Shell Oil was up to the task of drilling in the unpredictable region.

The Noble Discoverer reached Unalaska after traveling from the Arctic off Alaska’s northern coasts. It will head to Seward, where the rig will port at the Alaska Railroad dock, Smith said. The Noble Discoverer’s sister rig, the Kulluk, should arrive in Dutch Harbor in less than a week. Kulluk began preliminary well work in the Beaufort Sea this year.

Both ships will stay at those locations for an undetermined amount of time this winter, said Smith