Shell’s 2013 Arctic drilling programme 'on the brink' after grounded drilling rig incident

Press release - 4 January, 2013
Washington DC, January 4, 2013 – Following news that Shell’s stranded oil rig has suffered serious damage since being grounded in the Gulf of Alaska, Greenpeace predicts the company will now struggle to complete its planned 2013 drilling programme in the Arctic.

The Kulluk ran aground late on December 31 off the island of Sitkalidak after repeatedly breaking its towing lines in heavy seas and storm-force winds. Media reports suggest that Shell was rushing the rig out of Alaska to avoid a US$6 million local property tax which would have been imposed on January 1st.

Reacting to the news, Greenpeace USA Deputy Campaigns Director Dan Howells said:

“The rocks grinding against the Kulluk’s hull are damaging Shell’s corporate reputation just as badly as the rig itself. It’s hard to see how this company can salvage this rig, repair it and regain the public’s trust in time for the 2013 drilling season.

“Shell’s US$4.5 billion Arctic gamble is looking like a serious mistake, and should act as a warning to other companies looking to drill in this incredibly hostile environment.

"The US administration should stop licensing Arctic drilling and start protecting America’s coastline from Shell’s incompetence. Oil companies cannot operate safely in the pristine Arctic, where both the risks and the impacts of any industrial accident are too great to bear.“

Shell officials have revealed that the Kulluk has suffered serious damage since running aground. Emergency and regular generators have been damaged, while sea water has seeped into the rig itself after waves pounded the aging drill rig. Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate further over the weekend.

The Kulluk ran aground near the Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge, where any spill would have terrible impacts on local wildlife. The area is home to at least two endangered species, as well as harbor seals, salmon and sea lions.

"Shell cannot be allowed to continue its reckless drilling programme. Over two million people have already joined a campaign to protect the Arctic from destructive industry and Shell's latest mishap confirms their worst fears. The US government must finally stand up and take action," Howells added.

The campaign and petition numbers can be viewed at


Notes to editor:

There are approximately 143,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board the Kulluk, an aging drill rig built in 1983. Weighing almost 28,000 tonnes, the rig had been due for scrapping before Shell bought it in 2005 and the company has since spent $292 million to upgrade the vessel.

The Kulluk incident is the latest in a series of blunders that Shell has committed in relation to its Arctic drilling program:

•    In July: Shell admits that it can’t meet US government air pollution targets for its Arctic drilling fleet, and asks for an exemption. (more)

•    Also in July, Shell’s other drilling vessel Noble Discoverer slips anchor and runs aground in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. (more)

•    In August: the Arctic Challenger, a barge built by Shell to contain oil spilled during any accidents in the Arctic, is cited by Federal authorities for four illegal discharges of hydraulic fluid during preparation work for the summer drilling season. (more)

•    In November the Noble Discoverer engine catches fire in the port of Dutch Harbour, Alaska. (more)

•    In early December FOIAs reveal that Shell’s sub-sea capping stack was “crushed like a beer can” during testing. (more)

Travis Nichols, GPUS media officer / +1 (206) 802-8498
Ben Ayliffe, Greenpeace Arctic campaigner, / +44 (0) 7815 708 683
Greenpeace International press desk, +31 (0)20 718 24 70