An environmental coalition of Democrats in the House of Representatives is calling for a investigation to a beleaguered Shell offshore drilling rig that has run aground on a small Alaskan island south of Kodiak.
The Kulluk, a 266-foot drilling barge, was returning from a drilling expedition off the coast of Arctic Alaska when stormy waters separated the Kulluk from its tow boats shortly before the New Year and pushed the barge ashore, where it remains grounded.
“The recent grounding of Shell’s Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic," the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, composed of 46 Democratic representatives, said in a Thursday statement.
Officials responding to the grounding said at a Thursday news conference that they've found no indication the barge has leaked any of the 150,000 gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel and roughly 12,000 gallons of combined lube oil and hydraulic fluid on board.
"Today we can confirm that the Kulluk remains upright and stable," Sean Churchfield, a Shell incident commander, said Thursday, though the U.S. Coast Guard cautioned that officials still had work to do to fully assess the barge's condition.
Calmer weather allowed a team to again board the Kulluk for a few hours for an evaluation. Churchfield said the Kulluk had suffered wave damage, which included the breach of watertight doors and damage to the barge's generators, which may require that more generators be brought on board.
No oil sheen was visible in the water, officials said. Steve Russell, the state incident commander from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said flyovers had not revealed "any environmental impact."
The nautical storm that tossed the Kulluk against the rocks of the southeast side of Sitkalidak Island had long been preceded by political squalling from conservationists and other environmental groups. They had warned of the hazards of drilling in the environmentally sensitive Arctic, where the Kulluk was exploring what's thought to be one of the world's largest remaining oil deposits.
In its Thursday statement, the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition pointed to recent concerns about Shell's Noble Discoverer, a drilling rig the Coast Guard flagged for serious “discrepancies” in its safety and pollution equipment, as well as Shell's problem-plagued Arctic Challenger, a containment vessel.
"These serious incidents warrant thorough investigation," the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition said in its statement.