London – Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell ignored warnings over the risks posed by storm-tossed seas in the run-up to the grounding of an oil rig off Alaska in late 2012, according to a report by the US Coast Guard (USCG).
The investigation claimed that the company’s plan to tow the Kulluk – which had been used as part of its Arctic drilling operations – across the Gulf of Alaska “were not adequate.” Though it does not have the power to issue any fines, the report recommends regulators consider hitting Shell with legal penalties.
It also concluded that the decision to move the rig so late in the year was influenced by Alaskan tax laws. Shell believed that if the rig was still in the state’s waters by 1 January 2013 it would count as taxable property for the year, costing the company millions of dollars.
The rig was being towed from the Beaufort Sea to Seattle for off-season maintenance. The Aiviq – the custom-built tug assigned to Kulluk – lost power to its engines while being battered by stormy seas. A second tug was forced to release its towing line three days later, on 31 December, in the face of 50 ft waves and 130 km/h winds.
Shortly after the Kulluk grounded off Sitkalidak Island, where it remained for four days. Though the rig was carrying large amount of fuel it didn’t leak, and none of the 18-strong crew was injured.
The report highlighted an email sent by the master of the Aiviq to Shell shortly into the journey.
“To be blunt I believe that this length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing guarantees an ass kicking,” he wrote.
Shell said it is reviewing the findings.
“Already, we have implemented lessons learned from our internal review of our 2012 operations,” the company said. “Those improvements will be measured against the findings in the USCG report as well as recommendations from the US Department of (the) Interior.”