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Problems continue in 2013 for Shell as oil rig runs aground in Alaska

On New Year’s Eve, Shell’s 266-foot backup oil rig, the Kulluk, ran aground near Sitkalidak Island in Alaska after heavy duty tow lines repeatedly snapped. It’s another setback in a long line of problems that Shell have encountered in their attempts to explore the Arctic for oil.

The rig ran into difficulties during a severe storm that left its 18 man crew in need of a daring helicopter rescue. The rig has now been refloated with the aid of 15 vessels and is being towed to a nearby cove close to Kodiak Island.

Despite the forceful storm battering the rig for a couple of days none of the 143,000 gallons of diesel on board the rig was spilled, which is just as well for Shell, as any oil spill in this pristine and uninhabited region would have been a logistical and public relations disaster.

However, watertight hatches have been breached and both the service and backup generators failed leaving the rig stranded on the rocks. Seawater had also reportedly breached one of the hulls of the rig, raising the possibility that it could be out of commission for some time.

This would be a severe blow to Shell’s ambitions for oil exploration in the Arctic. The plans to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in the summer of 2013 will now be in serious doubt as Shell’s spill response plan stipulates that both rigs, the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer, must be operational when drilling so that one of the rigs can drill a spill containment “relief well” in the event of a blowout.

With Shell’s Arctic programme reaching spending levels of an estimated £3.1 billion without one drop of oil being extracted, this latest incident will now cast doubt over the entire venture yet again.

A statement released by the SEEC (House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition) voiced concerns that “The recent grounding of Shell’s Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic.” It added that the incident involving the Kulluk, as well as the problems surrounding Shell’s containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, represent “alarming blunders” and “warrant thorough investigation”.

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