Shell Will Limit Rigs to One Moorage, Say Port Officials

Local officials say Shell Oil has agreed to keep their drill rigs tied up in just one location each in Unalaska, as the company looks to return to the Arctic this summer.

In their request to use state tidelands, Shell listed Wide Bay, Nateekin Bay and Summer Bay all as potential moorage sites for the Polar Pioneer. Now, they say the latter two will be back-ups, for use in emergencies only.

That’s according to Rick Entenmann, with the Alaska Marine Pilots. He says he met with Shell’s marine  team in Anchorage last week, and posed concerns that cycling the rig through all three areas would obstruct vessel traffic.

Wide Bay, at top left, would be the primary moorage for the Polar Pioneer. The other two options would be used only as back-ups. (via Shell Oil)
Wide Bay, at top left, would be the primary moorage for the Polar Pioneer. The other two options would be used only as back-ups. (via Shell Oil)

“I’m just clearing the air there that they weren’t planning on putting the Polar Pioneer anywhere but Wide Bay,” he says. “That’s the big one, because she’s got eight anchors out, and she takes up quite a bit of space. So Wide Bay would be out of the way as far as major traffic is concerned.”

He says the vessel would only move to Nateekin or Summer Bay in case of disaster — like if a disabled vessel needed to tie up at the emergency mooring buoy in Wide Bay.

“The other two — I understand they need something on paper,” Entenmann says, “and hopefully that’s all we get, what’s on paper.”

He says Shell also told him their Noble Discoverer drill ship would stay in one place, too — in Broad Bay, just south of Wide Bay, except in emergencies. And he says both ships will take their anchors with them when they move. He expects the rigs will stay in Unalaska for at least a month this summer before heading north.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino confirmed that the company’s marine team met with Entenmann, but declined to discuss other details.

“We continue to engage with the pilots and the port as well on the back-up contingency mooring locations for Shell’s assets,” she says. “It’s a dialogue that we really appreciate and we value.”

Public comment on the moorage plan closed on Wednesday. Candice Snow, at the Department of Natural Resources, says they got a comment from the city of Unalaska about the meeting with Shell, and two more from residents with similar concerns about the mooring locations.

Snow says it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before the permits are finalized — even as some of Shell’s fleet makes its way to Unalaska. That leaves time for one last visit from Shell representatives. The city has asked them to come out in mid-March to go over the final details for the summer season.

Annie Ropeik is a reporter for KUCB in Unalaska.

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