Saturday, January 05, 2013

Here's What We're Up Against

There are a number of differences between the grounded Royal Dutch Shell oil drilling platform ship, Kulluk, and the sort of supertankers the Chinese are planning to run into and out of Kitimat.   That said the Kulluk does provide a useful glimpse into what can go wrong in northern coastal waters and how hard it is to control when something like that happens.

The Kulluk was being towed to its new site when the tow cable parted.   Tug boats were right there but they couldn't get it back under tow and so it drifted onto the rocks.

Now it turns out the Kulluk, which still hasn't breached, will probably remain grounded (and grinding away) on the rocks 40-miles from Kodiak City until spring.

What's the holdup?   It's being blamed on the "fury of the north Pacific winter."

That's what it's like in the northern coastal waters shared by Alaska and British Columbia.   The conditions can be furious, and those conditions are so bad that tugs can't salvage ships and oil spill ships can do nothing.   Even the outfits Enbridge has lined up for its oil spill vessels freely admit they can operate only in calm waters and are designed and equipped to respond to spills of conventional crude oil, not bitumen.

And, yes, in case you're wondering.   That picture is of the Kulluk, snagged on the rocky bottom, in a remarkably calm moment, off the equally rocky Alaska shoreline awaiting its fate until spring.

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