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Shell’s drill rig leaves Dutch Harbor, for now

James Mason: July 1st, 2011 1:19 pm

Shell’s primary drilling unit “Kulluk” began its long journey from Dutch Harbor to Seattle on Thursday. With six tugs in attendance the huge drill rig headed out of Captain’s Bay where it spent the winter. Once the two-week, 3-knot trip is completed the Kulluk will undergo what Shell spokesman Curtis Smith described as “planned technical upgrades.” The rig goes to Seattle because a larger shipyard than Dutch Harbor can provide is necessary for the work, and Dutch Harbor can’t provide housing and other services for the 400-plus workers needed.

“Dutch is an excellent home for the Kulluk,” said Smith, adding the work should be completed in seven to 10 months and the rig will return in time to move into place in the Beaufort Sea in 2012.

“The necessary permits will have to be in place,” he said. Smith praised the facilities in Dutch Harbor, particularly OSI’s dock where the rig has been moored.

“The dock was purpose-built for the Kulluk because of its unique shape,” he said.

One of the six tugs accompanying the rig as it moved seaward was Nanuq, Shell’s purpose-built Arctic oil spill response vessel. Other tugs included the Ocean Titan and the Ocean Ranger, Gyrfalcon, James Dunlap, and Saratoga.

The Kulluk was transferred from Canada’s Mackenzie Delta to Dutch Harbor to support oil spill contingency plans for the summer 2011 drilling season. Shell had already spent some $200 million on improvements before transportation to the Aleutians. Plans were to use the Kulluk as a standby rig for drilling a relief well, should the need arise.

The moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic has caused Shell to suspend most operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

James Mason can be reached at [email protected], or by phone at 907-444-7210

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