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The Associated Press – ANCHORAGE, ALASKA— The U.S. Coast Guard was trying to determine Tuesday whether a strong Alaska storm had abated enough to allow for a helicopter to assess the condition of a drilling rig that ran aground in shallow water off a small island.
If conditions are safe, the helicopter would also lower experts to the Kulluk to get a close look at the rig and determine if it is leaking fuel, said Curtis Smith, a Royal Dutch Shell PLC employee speaking for a unified command center set up in an Anchorage hotel.
The Kulluk was built in 1983 and had been slated to be scrapped before Shell bought it in 2005. The company has spent $292 million since then to upgrade the vessel.
About 250 people from the Coast Guard, Shell, state responders and others were involved in a response effort and waiting to know for sure what environmental impact the grounding might have caused.
Storm conditions remained severe Tuesday morning with the grounded rig likely taking a pounding. Winds were reported at up to 112 km/h, with waves 11-metre and 14-metre swells. Some waves overnight reached 15 metres, the National Weather Service said.
The forecast called for both wind and waves easing Tuesday afternoon.
“We are doing whatever we can do to prepare,” said unified command center spokeswoman Destin Singleton said.
The Kulluk is carrying 568,000 litres of diesel and about 45,000 litres of lube oil and hydraulic fluid. “The condition of the Kulluk has not been confirmed,” unified command said in a status report issued about 12 hours after the grounding.
The drilling rig was built with a double-sided hull of reinforced steel that is 8 centimetres thick, Smith said.
The drilling rig’s difficulties go back to Thursday when it separated from a towing vessel south of Kodiak Island as it was being towed to Seattle for maintenance. The rig grounded Monday night on a sand and gravel shore off the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island, an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Alaska.
The North Pacific storm that has caused problems for Shell’s efforts to move the drill into place near Kodiak Island was expected to ease a bit Tuesday, said spokeswoman Darci Sinclair.
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who is the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, issued a statement Tuesday expressing his concerns about the Kulluk situation.
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