Canadian plans stall while American exploration slowly advances
December 07, 2011
At a Seattle shipyard owned by portland Oregon-based Vigor Industrial, there it sits. The “it” is the Kulluk drilling rig, built in 1983 by a Japanese shipbuilding company and first operated by Gulf Canada Resources Inc. At the time, the rig, whose name means “Thunder” in the language of the Inuvialuit people, represented cutting edge technology for Arctic oil and gas exploration. Particularly noteworthy is the vessel’s bowl-shaped ice-strengthened hull − specifically designed to withstand the unrelenting ice pack of the Beaufort Sea, where the Kulluk would spend much of its early life. As the ice presses around the Kulluk, the rounded hull rides on top of the frozen water instead of being crushed or penetrated by it. It’s an ingenious design and absolutely necessary in the Beaufort’s ice-choked waters.
But as this showcase of Canadian Arctic drilling expertise spends this winter receiving upgrades in America’s “Emerald City,” it’s an apt symbol of where Arctic exploration stands in Canada and the United States. The rig was bought by Shell in 2005 with the express purpose of drilling wells on the Alaskan side of Beaufort, where Shell acquired exploration licenses in 2005. In August, Shell won U.S. Interior Department approval to drill in the Beaufort. The Dutch-based multinational aims to do just that in the summer of 2012 – although it still faces more regulatory hurdles and must navigate through fierce local opposition before any drilling will occur.