Arctic Drilling Plan Further Criticized as Shell Ship Slips Moorings, Near Grounding

Published Jul 16, 2012 10:51 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Noble Discoverer – one of the vessels that Shell Oil is planning to use in its Arctic drilling exploration – slipped its mooring and drifted uncomfortably close to one of the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. This is the latest incident surrounding the already controversial energy project.

The Coast Guard reports that the Noble Discoverer was about 175 yards from shore in Unalaska Bay when it slipped its mooring Saturday and drifted towards shore near Dutch Harbor. There were no notices of injury, pollution or damage to the ship. Many feared grounding, but evidence proved otherwise, especially with no hull damage.

Shell Oil believes that drilling in the Arctic will be its most difficult projects in history. The discovery of oil in the area could generate thousands of much-needed jobs, but opposing groups are expressing concern over the possibility of oil spills and marine pollution.

Shell has been forced to delay drilling until next month due to an unexpected thick layer of sea ice. The delay cuts valuable time from Shell, which is operating under U.S. permits which require them to stop drilling in the seas by the end of October.

Greenpeace, Shell’s main adversary, questioned whether Shell could carry out the complicated plan if it was having problems with a ship's mooring this weekend. However, a representative from the oil giant claims that all indications pointed to the Noble Discoverer slipping anchor in soft ground, drifting only 100 yards toward shore – according to a CNN report.

An offshore support vessel was quickly able to tow the Discoverer back to its original location. The crew onboard also felt no indication of grounding.

The Coast Guard is thoroughly inspecting the interior of the ship's hull today, while Shell will use a diver to conduct a secondary inspection of the outer hull. Shell maintains that the anchor system used in the Arctic offshore drilling is in no way similar to the light anchor used in the harbor scenario.