Shell broke its weeks-long silence on the status of its two Arctic drill rigs Feb. 11. The Kulluk and Noble Discoverer, two drill vessels used by Shell for its 2012, Arctic drilling, will be moved from Alaska to Asia for repairs, the company said in a statement late Monday.
The Kulluk, a conical drill vessel, was damaged in a grounding near Kodiak Island Dec. 31. Noble Drilling's drillship Noble Discoverer, under a long-time contract to Shell, is now in port in Seward due to an engine malfunction.
"Based on ongoing evaluations of the condition of the Kulluk it has been determined that the rig, pending an approved tow plan, will first be moved to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and then dry-towed to a shipyard in Asia with a suitable dry dock," Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in a statement.
"Additionally, Noble Drilling, in consultation with Shell, has made the decision to dry-tow the Noble Discoverer from Seward to a shipyard in Korea. The outcome of further inspections for both rigs will determine the shipyard schedule and timing of their return to service," Smith said.
"Dry-towing is a time-efficient way to get both rigs to suitable shipyards to begin necessary work that will allow us to better assess our options."
Smith said "dry tow" meant carrying the vessels with a heavy-lift vessel, a large ship that maneuvers alongside the drill vessel, is partly submerged, and then is raised with the drill ship to be carried. Heavy-lift vessels were used to carry jack-up rigs from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Asia to Cook Inlet in 2011 and 2012.
Meanwhile, the effects of this on Shell's 2013 summer exploration program are still unclear.
"We have not yet made any decisions on the 2013 drilling in Alaska. Mapping the next steps for the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer is a multi-faceted operation and today's update is a result of those new plans being solidified," Smith said.
The extent of damage to the Kulluk was not described in the statement, but state officials familiar with the grounding event said that the entry of saltwater inside the vessel and damage to electrical systems, which Shell has acknowledged, is significant.
Shell and Coast Guard officials have also acknowledged some damage to the Kulluk's topside from heavy waves, but have made no mention of any hull damage. The Kulluk grounded on a gravel beach on a small island off Kodiak's south shore in a storm after towlines connecting the rig to tugs separated.
The Noble Discoverer encountered engine problems during a voyage from Dutch Harbor to Seward in the fall and has been in Seward awaiting approval of plans for moving it to a shipyard for repairs.
Shell experienced multiple problems in 2012 in its efforts to begin an Arctic exploration program including delays due to ice conditions. The Kulluk and Noble Discoverer were able to get to their assigned locations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, and were able to drill the top sections of two exploration wells.
The wells were to be completed in the summer of 2013, but damage to the vessels has now raised doubts as to whether than can happen.