Shell drill rig still grounded off Alaska

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo looks out

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo looks out over the grounded drill rig, Kulluk, during a flyover Tuesday off Alaska in the North Pacific. The rig had been headed for maintenance in Seattle when it broke its tow lines and had to be beached. (Jan. 1, 2013) (Credit: AP)

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The U.S. Coast Guard and Royal Dutch Shell Plc were kept from a grounded mobile drilling vessel for a second day Wednesday as heavy seas and weather in the North Pacific made access impossible.

Inspectors haven't been able to board the rig because of the challenging conditions and are still watching the weather, said Jason Moore, a spokesman in Anchorage, Alaska, for the response group that includes the Coast Guard and industry representatives. The rig, the Kulluk, was beached late Monday after it broke from its tow lines.

The Coast Guard checked the rig overnight Tuesday, Moore said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "It was rocking a little bit, so it is responding to wave action," he said. "It is stable. No sheen of any kind."

The rig is stranded just off the beach of Sitkalidak Island, about 60 miles southwest of the town of Kodiak.

Environmental groups Tuesday called for a halt to the company's efforts to drill in Arctic waters, saying the company is no match for drilling conditions in that area. Opponents had previously sued Shell to prohibit drilling off Alaska.

The Kulluk has about 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of drilling fluid on board. Shell owns the vessel, and Noble Corp., a rig contractor based in Switzerland, provides crew and manages drilling operations.

The state of Alaska is monitoring the rig for environmental damage, Steve Russell, an official with the Alaska Environmental Conservation Department, said Tuesday. The land near where the rig is perched is owned by the Old Harbor Native Corp., he said.

Shell expects to resume drilling once sea ice melts later this year, Curtis Smith, an Alaska-based Shell spokesman, said in a telephone interview Dec. 30. The Hague-based company was forced to cancel drilling off Alaska in September because of damage to a dome designed to capture any underwater spill.

The Kulluk was en route to Seattle for maintenance after finishing a season of drilling in the Beaufort Sea when it encountered the storm. The vessel and its tow craft were heading for shelter when the tow lines broke.

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