Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 2:16 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Buccaneer: No living invasive species on rig



By Brian Smith
Morris News Service - Alaska

Buccaneer Energy officials say a preliminary report generated by an independent biologist shows there is no risk of invasive species on the Endeavour-Spirit of Independence jack-up rig currently stationed near Homer in Kachemak Bay.

"The preliminary report is in and it states that no living organisms were found," said Jay Morakis, of JMR Worldwide, a public relations firm hired by Buccaneer, on Saturday.

Morakis said the full report will be available this week and will be delivered to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for review.

Fish and Game officials talked with Buccaneer last week about what organisms might have still been attached to the rig when it was brought north from Singapore after a Homer resident plucked a small shell from one of the rig's legs during a tour.

The shell that Larry Smith said appeared to be a foreign oyster was "one of thousands" in the area where he found it. The discovery prompted Fish and Game's invasive species program to offer Buccaneer a survey of any organisms still on the rig. Buccaneer instead hired an independent biologist to do a similar review.

It is against the law to "knowingly introduce" an invasive species in Alaska, specifically "fish, invertebrates and amphibians," said Tammy Davis, a Juneau-based Fish and Game biologist who leads the department's invasive species program.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Sarah Geoffrion, of the Homer-based Marine Safety Detachment, said the Coast Guard has not yet done any inspections of the Endeavour rig.

Geoffrion said the Coast Guard performed a regular port state control exam on the Kang Sheng Kou — the heavy lift vessel that carried the Endeavour to Homer from Singapore. That exam, she said is an overall safety and security exam that includes a check to make sure the vessel was complying with ballast water recording requirements.

"We don't go searching for invasive species," she said. "I probably couldn't pick one out if I saw it."

The Coast Guard will eventually inspect the Endeavour, but that exam would be for a certificate of compliance, which needs to occur before the company drills, she said.

"Generally what we look at during those kinds of exams on other vessels are general safety requirements, machinery requirements, drills with the crew — firefighting, abandon ship-type drills, that kind of thing," she said.

Cathy Foerster, chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said her agency is not necessarily concerned with whether or not invasive species are attached to any rig.

"Oysters, barnacles and clams and whatever are so far out of the AOGCC's jurisdiction that even if we would have gone to Singapore we wouldn't have been looking for that kind of thing," she said.

"Our oversight is for mechanical integrity, well control, drilling operations and reservoir management."

Danny Davis, president of Escopeta Oil and Gas, the company that brought the Spartan Drilling Company's Blake 151 jack-up rig to Cook Inlet last summer, criticized Buccaneer and the state for their handling of the situation.

Davis said he was forced to hand over the operations of the Spartan 151 to Furie Operating Alaska after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Escopeta violated the Jones Act when it moved the jack-up rig from the Gulf Coast to Cook Inlet.

"That's the first thing you do is clean all of the barnacles and (stuff) off of it — everybody knows that," he said in an interview with the Clarion. "Secondly, I don't think (the Endeavour) is able to run and thirdly they didn't have anywhere near the scrutiny or have to abide by the AOGCC watching over them like they did us. My point is that I think (the state) should treat everyone the same."

Foerster disagreed with Davis' claims. She said the AOGCC sent two inspectors to Texas to inspect the Spartan 151 before it was shipped north last year.

"When our folks got there, they found the rig wasn't ready to go, critical equipment necessary for the inspection wasn't even there, was being completed somewhere else and would meet the rig in Alaska," she said. "So it was just a Chinese fire drill and a complete and utter waste of our folks' time."

Foerster said the AOGCC learned from that "mistake" with Escopeta and will inspect the Endeavour when it is ready to drill in Buccaneer's Northwest Cook Inlet leases.

"The rig is here, but they are still cobbling together the things that need to be on the rig for our purposes, which tells me we were right," she said. "If they are here and they are still not ready for a rig inspection, they would have not been ready for one in Singapore."

Foerster said Davis is also incorrect in his assertion the state isn't scrutinizing the Endeavour as much as, or differently than the Spartan 151.

"We have been very actively involved with (Buccaneer) in assuring that from the things that are within our authority they are meeting all of the requirements for prudent operation," she said. "With all that said, when they get into place and are jacked-up, they do not have authority to proceed with their drilling until we do a complete, top-to-toe inspection of the rig looking for all of the things we look for including that their blowout prevention equipment, every component of it works."

Buccaneer Energy CEO Curtis Burton said in a statement emailed to the Clarion that the company has been working closely with all agencies and regulators.

"When the Endeavour drills in the Inlet it will have passed all of its necessary inspections and be in full compliance with all regulations including safety and environmental, as would be expected by any law abiding citizen," Burton said.

Buccaneer's oil discharge prevention and contingency plan for Northwest Cook Inlet was approved Aug. 29, said Laurie Silfven, an Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation spill plan reviewer and acting section manager.

Approval of a spill plan is "a fairly rigorous review process, which we do on all of our c-plans, but especially the Cook Inlet plans," she said.

Buccaneer plans to drill the Cosmopolitan Project, which is an oil and gas field located in 50 feet of water in Cook Inlet near Anchor Point formerly owned by Pioneer Natural Resources, after drilling in Northwest Cook Inlet.

"The Cosmo unit was last drilled by Pioneer from onshore," Silfven said. "Buccaneer recently purchased that and added it to their onshore oil spill contingency plan. The well is currently shut in."

Silfven said the state has heard Buccaneer would like to drill in the Cosmo unit, but the company has not yet submitted an offshore oil discharge prevention and contingency plan for that activity. The company can't drill in the area without the plan, she said.

Brian Smith is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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