By Tim Bradner, Alaska Journal of Commerce:
The U.S. Coast Guardâ€™s marine casualty investigation into the grounding of Shellsâ€™ drillship Kulluk in late 2012 will be concluded Aug. 19 but will not likely be made public until after the first of the year, a Coast Guard spokesman in Alaska said Aug. 14.
Coast Guard spokesperson Kip Wadlow said the investigating officer, Cmdr. Joshua McTaggert, will to deliver his report on the accident to the Coast Guardâ€™s Alaska Commander Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo on Aug, 19.
Ostebo must review the report and forward his recommendations to Coast Guard headquaters, Wadlow said. All that will take time.
â€œThis is a formal accident investigation and we are very deliberate on how these are done,â€ Wadlow said.
McTaggert, who is part of the Coast Guardâ€™s National Center for Expertise in Lousiana, conducted an extensive nine-day hearing in Alaska last spring on the Kulluk grounding.
Shell has a lot riding on the Coast Guard accident report. The Kulluk was grounded on an island near Kodiak during a fierce storm last Dec. 31. The drill vessel was refloated and has been sent to a shipyard in Asia for repairs.
While there were no lives lost or spilled oil, the accident has attracted wide attention because the Kulluk was a part of Shellâ€™s problem-plagued 2012 Arctic drilling program.
If the report is critical of Shellâ€™s decisions, for example in a decision to tow the Kulluk across the Gulf of Alaska during winter with inadequate tow gear or tugs, or in its risk analysis of bad weather, it will reflect badly on Shell management of its Arctic operations and give new ammunition to critics.
Shell has spent about $5 billion so far in the Arctic exploration but has been able to drill only two â€œtop holes,â€ or the upper parts of wells, because of the inability to get government-required spill response equipment to the Arctic in last summer in time to support drilling.
Itâ€™s not clear how the delay in the report being public will affect any effort by Shell to resume its exploration in 2014. The accident investigation involved decisions on towing and the equipment used, so any recommendations would be known in time for Shell to put them into place by spring, 2014.
Both the Kulluk and a drillship also used by Shell in the Arctic, the Noble Discoverer, are undergoing shipyard repairs. The Kulluk suffered only light hull damage in the grounding but the interior electrical systems were damaged by seawater. The Discoverer encountered engine problems and other safety issues.
Under federal rules Shell must have two drill vessels with proper permits in place in the Arctic for its drilling so that one rig could support the other in case of an emergency.
Tim Bradner can be reached at email@example.com.