More than a year has passed since the Kulluk oil rig, operated by Royal Dutch Shell, ran aground in the Arctic on New Year's Eve 2012. This week, the U.S. Coast Guard into the accident, pointing the finger at a number of factors that led to the accident.
The weather was bad, with large swells rocking the boat, but that's to be expected when operating north of Alaska. Knowing that, the report calls into question Shell's decision to try to tow the rig from Alaska to Seattle, which seemed motivated by a desire to avoid paying property taxes to Alaska. The report says: "The investigation has revealed that the tow planners did not recognize the risks, nor adequately plan for a towing evolution of such a unique vessel during the height of winter in the Gulf of Alaska."
The Coast Guard picked out a few technical problems, too. For one thing, , a design flaw in the tow vessel, the Aiviq, allowed seawater to enter its engines. The Aiviq's captain reportedly emailed the Kulluk tow master nine days before the rig ran aground, saying: "To be blunt I believe that this length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing guarantees an ass kicking. In my opinion we should get to the other side just as soon as possible."
PopMech went on board the Kulluk before it left Seattle for Alaska; we covered the harrowing helicopter rescue after the rig ran aground and analyzed the fallout for the future of Arctic drilling. For the complete story on the Kulluk, check out our 2013 cover story.