Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:24 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Storm forces jack-up rig to put legs down

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

The Sunday fall storm that kicked up whitecaps on Kachemak Bay and sent waves crashing onto the Homer Spit forced Buccaneer Energy to lower the three 410-foot tall legs of its jack-up rig Endeavour-Spirit of Independence to the sea floor.

The rig has been moored since last month at the Homer Deep Water Dock.

Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said Endeavour's crew made the decision after consulting with him in advance of the storm about how hard two tugs could pull to keep the rig safe at the dock. During a previous storm, tugs kept the rig moored to the dock by holding it against the wind. The tug engines never exceeded 20 percent of thrust. Hawkins decided the safest thing would be for the rig to stay docked with two tugs pulling it off the dock. If in this weekend's storm the tugs pulled at 50 percent thrust for more than 20 minutes, the legs would go down, Hawkins said he, the tug captains and the Endeavour owners decided.

At about 3:30 p.m. Sunday when that happened and two mooring lines snapped, "That's when the legs came down," Hawkins said.

"At the time it was an emergency situation," said Jay Morakis, a spokesperson with JMR Worldwide, Buccaneer's public relations firm.

Regulations for the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area prohibit storing jack-up rigs, a rule that came into place after the George Ferris, a Standard Oil rig, got stuck in Mud Bay in 1976. The George Ferris eventually had to have its legs blown off the bottom.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the agency regulating critical habitats, historically hasn't required a special area permit for vessels moored in the Homer Harbor or the Deep Water Dock, said Ginny Litchfield, Kenai Peninsula Area Manager for Fish and Game.

Bob Shavelson, Cook Inletkeeper for the environmental organization of the same name, said he has an earlier letter from Litchfield saying a jack-up rig goes from being moored to stored when its legs hit bottom. The incident raises questions about Buccaneer's plans to move the Endeavour to the Cosmopolitan site off Anchor Point this winter, he said.

"It would be a serious mistake to let them drill off Anchor Point in the winter if they can't stay (safely moored) at the Homer Dock," Shavelson said.

Buccaneer is in the process of applying for permits to drill at Cosmopolitan, Morakis said, but may not get them in time to drill this season.

Morakis and Litchfield both said Buccaneer notified Fish and Game that it had put the rig's legs down shortly after the incident. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources also was notified, Morakis said.

"All correct agencies are aware of what happened," he said.

Litchfield said Buccaneer would submit documentation regarding the incident that will include stability information. It will review that information before any permit requirement determinations are made, she added.

"ADF&G will not speculate as to the course or action until document review is complete," she said.

Morakis said the legs are in about 20 feet of mud above the firm substrate of the bay bottom at the dock. Hawkins said there is about 40 feet of water at the dock at a zero tide.

The incident tore up a section of heavy lumber on the dock's face designed to absorb damage from ships, Hawkins said. He said he wasn't sure if the dock could have withstood the force of a big jack-up rig like the Endeavour slamming against it in a storm.

If an 800-foot ship had been tied up during Sunday's storm, Hawkins said he would have asked the ship to leave. The Endeavour was going to leave the dock on Saturday to allow a scheduled visit from the Amsterdam cruise ship, but Holland America cancelled its Homer and Kodiak visits and the Amsterdam rode out the storm in Prince William Sound.

Hawkins said he doesn't think there will be a repeat of the George Ferris. Jack-up rig technology has improved, he said.

"I'm completely confident they're going to be able to lift the legs again. It's not going to be a permanent fixture at the Deep Water Dock."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.