Wreck of the Kulluk
January 1, 2015 1:11 AM   Subscribe

Wreck of the Kulluk (SLNYT) Three years ago, Shell spent millions to send a colossal oil rig to drill in the remote seas of the Arctic. But the Arctic had other plans.

“I really wanted to do this thing,” said Matthews, who is 57 but looks at least a decade younger. “I really did.” He settled on a plan: His captain would back the Alert carefully up to the Kulluk, which was still lurching wildly in 30-foot swells. Matthews would go out on the deck with a grappling hook. When they got close enough to the rig’s snapped emergency towline, he would throw the hook. He would reel it in by hand. Then he would get the Alert’s own tow cable and tie the two together with the knot he suggested: a bowline.
posted by CrystalDave (74 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fascinating article. Thanks for the post.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:36 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this post.

I have Native friends on the Slope who say this and other failures show God is trying to stop Shell from drilling in the Chukchi.
posted by spitbull at 3:43 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Shell had the Kulluk refurbished at Vigor Marine shipyards in Seattle: new crew quarters, new cranes, new generators and a new blue-and-white paint scheme that was chosen, according to a Vigor news release, “to accommodate the known preferences of whales.”

I have so many questions about whale preferences.
posted by srboisvert at 3:56 AM on January 1, 2015 [18 favorites]


Now more was at stake than the Kulluk or the prospects of the company that owned it. The men on the Alert had to save themselves.

Clearly, the writer and the men on the Alert do not understand Capitalism.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:59 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Coast Guard often gets the short shrift in the consideration of US Military Services, but those are some pretty badass people doing that job.
posted by Cyrano at 4:03 AM on January 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


The Coast Guard often gets the short shrift in the consideration of US Military Services

I was thinking the same thing, reading this article, and also thinking why the fuck should Coast Guard servicemen or women have to risk their lives for fucking Shell Oil’s egregious misdeeds and lack of care and precaution?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:38 AM on January 1, 2015 [18 favorites]


Great article. As an added bonus, it pointed me to this, which looks like a fantastic idea: Deca
posted by chavenet at 5:24 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have Native friends on the Slope who say this and other failures show God is trying to stop Shell from drilling in the Chukchi.

In that case, you could fairly say that Shell are doing God's work.
posted by ambrosen at 5:35 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those coast guarders are not exactly risking their lives for Shell. They are risking them for the insurance industry.
posted by srboisvert at 6:07 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I found this on a Huffington Post site:

Sean Churchfield, Shell's Alaska ventures manager, said salvage teams have found no signs of breaches to any of the Kulluk's fuel tanks and only one area where seawater leaked onboard. A tow plan has been approved by government regulators.

"According to naval architects, the vessel is sound and fit to tow," Churchfield said at a news conference late on Saturday.

Looking at the photos that was about the softest possible grounding. Nobody got hurt and no environmental damage. All they lost was a bunch of money and they got embarrassed. They got off pretty light for such a colossal fuck up.

The satellite view of Sitkalidak Island looks like paradise. According to wikipedia nobody lives there.
posted by bukvich at 6:27 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Those coast guarders are not exactly risking their lives for Shell. They are risking them for the insurance industry.

Scratch that. They were uninsured! Which highlights the stupidity.

That adds a bit more excitement to the potential for them having a environmental disaster in the Arctic.
posted by srboisvert at 6:31 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


*although there was a fatality in the construction yard during the refurbishing operations but I got the impression that wasn't a part of the shipwreck disaster story. If anybody has the details on whether that resulted in a lawsuit and a payout I would be interested to see them.
posted by bukvich at 6:32 AM on January 1, 2015


Not be confused with the Wreck of the Karluk which occurred in the same general area about 100 years ago, in 1914. The names seemed similar though I guess there are a lot of "K..uk" proper names in Alaska.
posted by stbalbach at 6:33 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


if you want to know what a privately funded mission to mars would look like, this is it, except everyone would be dead.

Clearly, the writer and the men on the Alert do not understand Capitalism.

This article is a perfect example of the complete clusterfuck that the combination of adversarial regulation and public/private collusion i.e. the American way, make of trying to do complicated engineering projects. The engineers at Shell must be drunk all the time, I would be. Risking a 400 million dollar rig and a 6 billion dollar project on a 6 million dollar tax bill is just totally irrational, but the people who actually have to plan this thing are stuck between government regulators on the one hand and corporate execs on the other, where each side has seemingly little responsibility for the outcome.

But the bottom-line is that we, not capitalism, need that oil. The entire world economy depends upon risky oil exploration. You could sit down and try to explain how things would work without that oil... but I don't think you could sell that to anyone. Most green types feel as little responsibility for managing economic shocks as oil execs do for oil disasters.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:41 AM on January 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


There are solutions to oil based on sound economics that actually cause economic growth, not shocks. It's the old guard hanging on to outdated views that cause shocks.
posted by stbalbach at 7:20 AM on January 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Coast Guard report can be found on their Marine Casualty page (everything in pdf), along with the report for the wreck of tall ship Bounty (previously, also) and the fire and loss of power of the Carnival Splendor (TLDR: Carnival ships, not that well run actually).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:22 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are so many great examples in this article of "privatize the profits, socialize the losses".

What's that quote about no atheists in foxholes? I guess there are no capitalists in Arctic gales.
posted by clawsoon at 7:23 AM on January 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


Very well done article and worth reading. The engineer in me kept reading the foreshadowing hints and saying, "Oh shit, that's not good.". A lot of questionable decisions and a lot of bravery.
posted by grimjeer at 7:48 AM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


the engineer in me kept reading the foreshadowing hints and saying,

My Rigger-Sense went off immediately at that part where they found shackles that sorta looked bigger but didn't have any certification paperwork. I mean...
posted by mikelieman at 8:17 AM on January 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


That's the most interesting part really - a corner gets cut here and there in many projects, but you read this story and keep thinking this can't turn out well . If this was a movie, we would be criticizing the heavy-handed foreshadowing.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:07 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Still reading it, but the "this'll do" shackle changeover was the first warning bell. If like to see the Management of Change document and so signed off on that.

Insurance - a lot of companies self insure on projects this size. Works out cheaper to maintain the funds in an account than paying premiums.
posted by arcticseal at 9:43 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I could stay in bed reading shipwreck stories all day on a sub freezing New Year's Day, which is what I would do if the kids weren't screaming.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:22 AM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I could stay in bed reading shipwreck stories all day on a sub freezing New Year's Day, which is what I would do if the kids weren't screaming.

Can you call the Coast Guard?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:51 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have so many questions about whale preferences.
posted by srboisvert


Not a whale expert, but I bet "low to zero amounts of crude oil in water" is more important to them than the color of stuff floating in the water.
posted by 445supermag at 11:31 AM on January 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


I guess there are a lot of "K..uk" proper names in Alaska.

These names are all Inupiaq or Yup'ik. It's a bit cynical that Native names adorn oil industry ships to some Natives, at least. Opinion of course is divided and more complex than that.

I watched an Inupiaq whaling captain raise his hands to thank Jesus for this "disaster" by the way. The immediate fear is that the use of sonar and depth charges to sound for oil pockets will disrupt the migration of Bowhead whales, on which coastal communities depend for food. So even for environmentalists and indigenous activists these are not binary issues.
posted by spitbull at 11:45 AM on January 1, 2015


There should be a tilde over the 'n' in 'Inupiaq/t' above, but my iPhone doesn't seem to want to cooperate.
posted by spitbull at 11:47 AM on January 1, 2015


This NY Times article from 2012 Is a good read on Native community politics around the Beaufort and Chukchi exploration program.
posted by spitbull at 11:52 AM on January 1, 2015


Meanwhile this summer Finnish companies drilled a dozen or more test wells in the arctic with no problems. The degree to which Shell fucked this entire operation up cannot be overstated. It's not to do with the remoteness or Alaska being magically different. Most of the fuckups occurred long before those ships headed north or were inevitable due to inexperienced crew and lack of the right materials for the conditions. A child could have run the operation more smoothly.
posted by fshgrl at 12:07 PM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


These names are all Inupiaq or Yup'ik. It's a bit cynical that Native names adorn oil industry ships to some Natives, at least. Opinion of course is divided and more complex than that.

I've always felt the US Army scheme for naming their helicopters to be in extraordinarily poor taste.
posted by mikelieman at 12:13 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


While this instance with Shell seems particularly poorly done it is important to remember that NASA blew up two shuttles. Even extremely smart engineers and the best highly motivated people can fuck up systematically and catastrophically.
posted by srboisvert at 12:18 PM on January 1, 2015


This makes me wonder if the restrictions on drilling off the shore of California, mostly banned since 1969, should be loosened. How is polluting the CA coastline worse than AK's? Because people can see oil on the beach in person, but an Alaskan spill gains the remoteness of TV coverage?
posted by morganw at 12:25 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


NASA blew up two shuttles

I blame Morton Thiokol for the first, and ok, yeah NASA management really fucked up on the tile thing.

Ultimately, fuck you Richard Nixon. Fuck you.
posted by mikelieman at 12:36 PM on January 1, 2015


The Coasties weren't risking their lives for Shell, they were risking their lives to rescue the stranded sailors on the Kulluk. They were risking their lives to save the lives of the 18 guys who were trapped on a stranded, drifting oil rig that was spinning and pitching like a top that's about to fall over.

That's their job. It's the same with firefighters, to make it a little more familiar. If you're trapped in a burning building, they don't stop to ask if you're insured or if you can pay for the rescue or if all your smoke detectors were working or you had a fire extinguisher or whatever. They go in there and save your ass, and leave any questioning or blame-apportioning until all the human lives are safe. They risk their own lives to do it, and sometimes they lose their lives trying to save people who really should've known better.

The Coast Guard doesn't stop to judge whether or not you are worthy of being rescued. If you need rescuing then they'll do their damnedest to get you to safety. Later, once you're safe and dry, they may have some uncomfortable questions to ask you about why they had to put themselves in danger to save your sorry carcass, but first they rescue you.

Jesus Christ, people. I'm the farthest thing from a supporter of Arctic drilling, but these are people's lives we're talking about. You don't not save someone just because you think their boss is stupid or because their employer is insured for the loss of life or because you disagree with what they were trying to do. I deplore the ongoing dilution of the term "hero," but Coast Guard rescue people do some pretty heroic shit as part of their basic job description, and they volunteer to do it and work very hard to be allowed to. Hands down my favorite branch of the military.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:48 PM on January 1, 2015 [22 favorites]


Oh, and an addendum regarding the attempted rescue of the Aiviq: the sailors on board weren't in immediate danger, but they were stuck on a crippled ship, attached to a helpless and hapless oil rig, in some of the worst seas in the world.

Wouldn't you rather that the Coast Guard try to take control of the situation while things are still somewhat stable? Or would you prefer that they wait until things are so bad that people are about to die, mount a hasty and extremely risky rescue operation (the account of the helicopter rescue mission to the Kulluk is harrowing, you should read that part if nothing else) and then let the Aiviq wash up on shore somewhere where it'll cause a huge mess and be even more difficult and expensive to remove?

Seems like an easy choice to me.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:53 PM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, on a totally unrelated note, I loved the part where the captain of the Alert got control of the Kulluk by physically hauling its broken tow line up onto deck with a grappling hook, and then tying it back together with a bowline knot. That's my favorite knot! It's strong as hell. When the Alert finally had to give up on saving the Kulluk because the winds were so strong that it was still getting pushed backwards toward the land, they did it by letting the line winch out until there was no more and then just rip the winch out of the deck of the boat. The knot never let go though!

If you only learn two knots (I assume you know how to tie your shoes already) you should learn a bowline. It's pretty much always the knot you want if you need something to definitely not come undone no matter what, but you also want to be able to untie it again afterward. When it gets pulled on it just grabs harder and harder, and the rope will break before the knot lets go, but it never gets all cinched up on itself such that you can't undo it. If you know the right trick, you can always just flip the "around the tree" loop down and loosen the whole knot back up again.

Here, why don't you learn it right now?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:03 PM on January 1, 2015 [21 favorites]


Anticipation, I don't think that anyone was suggesting that those sailors be left to their fate. I think people are just expressing frustration with megacorporations like Shell that privatize profits and socialize risks as part of their business plan. There's also the additional frustration that, because of regulatory capture, those companies often avoid fines or other censure for gross negligence, such as the replacement of certified shackles with some of unknown provenance found in a box. Maybe that frustration could be phrased differently, or in a less cynical manner, but I don't think that most of us would argue against saving human lives.
posted by wintermind at 1:38 PM on January 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ok wait, how would you tie two separate ropes (or two ends of a broken line) together with the bowline? I have only ever used them to tie a rope to a thing that was not more rope. (like a bucket handle for a kitten elevator for example)
posted by poffin boffin at 1:42 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


put the second rope through the first bowline and then tie it so that the two bowline loops are interlocked like links in a chain.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:58 PM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


In September, in a sea trial in the calm waters of Puget Sound, a faulty electrical connection caused the $400 million containment dome to shoot to the surface without warning, where it “breached like a whale,” a federal inspector wrote, before sinking 120 feet. When it was pulled to the surface again, it had been “crushed like a beer can.”

Jesus. But...what's a containment dome? What is it supposed to contain?
posted by rtha at 2:02 PM on January 1, 2015


Ah, I see.
posted by rtha at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2015


Here, why don't you learn it right now?

That was one of my lifelong boy scout lessons. The troop leader's mnemonic was "the rabbit comes out of his hole goes around the tree and back down into his hole". It was the second knot they taught after the square knot.
posted by bukvich at 2:06 PM on January 1, 2015


rmd1023 has an answer, poffin boffin. What I prefer to do though is to tie the first bowline around the second rope, and then the second bowline around the first rope, and cinch them up. There are better bends out there (a bend is a knot used for joining two ropes) but it'll work in a pinch. The main drawback is that it's not very pretty and a bit more complicated than necessary.

Animated Knots has a whole section on bends.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:20 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having now read the full article, I'm left with the same feeling as Macondo; there were several opportunities for someone to raise a flag and Stop the Job as per Shell's policies (pdf), but they didn't.

I've forwarded the link not only to my team, but also members of my senior leadership team in operations and HSE as not only is it a riveting read, but it's also a good reminder that everything we choose to do has consequences. The controls are there for a reason and we are each accountable. When I was working offshore, the saying was that of you see it, you own it - don't just ignore it, it is your responsibility to fix until you hand it off properly to someone who can take it over to conclusion.

It's a reminder that we need to keep repeating. Also makes me glad I'm not offshore anymore.
posted by arcticseal at 4:40 PM on January 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


fshgrl is correct, drilling in the Arctic can be done safely, it's just a question of commitment. I'd rather we didn't, when there are other resources more readily available with less potential to be environmentally damaging.

We try and reduce our footprint everywhere we operate, but let's not delude ourselves that we're not leaving any footprints at all.
posted by arcticseal at 4:43 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: "they did it by letting the line winch out until there was no more and then just rip the winch out of the deck of the boat."

I'm not sure that was the plan exactly. Winch ropes are held to the drum with a plate and a couple bolts. It's basically just strong enough to hold the tension of the line until you get a few wraps around the drum (at which point tens of thousands of pounds of force are holding the rope to the drum). Un wrap the rope all the way to the end and the end of the rope pulls free relatively easily.
posted by Mitheral at 5:02 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, my bad Mitheral. I think that that plate you describe was what they tore out, rather than the whole winch. I'll admit I was slightly confused as to what the article was talking about there, but what you say clears it up. Thanks.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:26 PM on January 1, 2015


Yeah it's not about whether you can explore safely (though even then there is always risk), but one Deepwater Horizon scale accident once production begins will ruin a crucial ecosystem. The water is shallow and covered with ice a lot of the year, and that ice is a platform for a very finely balanced food chain that operates with no room for error because of the extreme conditions. We have no idea how to mitigate a major blowout under sea ice. It's Russian roulette with a vital and still robust ecosystem.

So I disagree that there is any way to assure that drilling can be done safely offshore in the Arctic.
posted by spitbull at 5:28 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know whether artic drilling can be done safely. From the article it seems clear that Shell as an organization can't do it safely. From what I read about the safety culture of BP after the Deepwater Horizon accident they can't be trusted. Exxon Mobil has already taken it's shot at destroying the Alaskan ecosystem. So who's left?
posted by rdr at 6:04 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know whether artic drilling can be done safely. From the article it seems clear that Shell as an organization can't do it safely. From what I read about the safety culture of BP after the Deepwater Horizon accident they can't be trusted. Exxon Mobil has already taken it's shot at destroying the Alaskan ecosystem. So who's left?

I am a mariner in the oil/gas support fleet, and familiar with all the players involved in this and I guarantee that Shell will be drilling in the Chukchi. They have way too much money already tied up in it. The Aiviq is already preparing to leave Everett to go up north, along with several other vessels coming up from Fourchon, La.
posted by holybagel at 6:41 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think anybody is asking whether companies like Shell, BP, and ExxonMobil will be allowed to drill in the arctic, holybagel—it's obvious that they're going to, and has been for years now. The question is whether they should be, given the fact that they have such a longstanding track record of causing massive disasters through what seems to be a combination of incompetence, arrogance, and greed. We know they're going to do it; they're so powerful, and there's so much money involved, that it's pretty much proven impossible to stop them. Some of us just wish they wouldn't, because of essentially the reasons that spitbull explains above.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:19 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The thing is, they know that they're on thin ice, as it were, so there is actually zero room for error. The amount of prep and emphasis on safety/environmental awareness these crews are going through is impressive. Granted its because there will be serious consequences if they mess up again, not voluntarily, but I still think that drilling will be done without any environmental problems. It's a huge economic benefit all over the country, including lots of money pumped to native Alaskan workers and communities and done right, there is a minimum of risk.

And frankly it's not going to stop. Companies are already building more and more ice breakers/ice-class vessels for the Chukchi. Whether it should or shouldn't happen is immaterial at this point. It is happening and will continue to happen, barring serious Deepwater Horizon-type problems.
posted by holybagel at 7:53 PM on January 1, 2015


The thing is, we hear that after every major disaster. "We're taking more precautions, we're doing more training, we're very conscious of the risks. We're going to do it right this time, and we promise there won't be any problems." And yet there are near- or minor disasters every year, and major catastrophes every five to ten years, and that's how it's been for at least as long as I've been alive. And they push out farther and farther, taking on more difficult and more ambitious projects, now in one of the most pristine, important, delicate, and threatened ecosystems in the world (and the Arctic ocean is all of those things, without a scrap of exaggeration).

So forgive me if I don't exactly have confidence that "We're going to do it right this time, seriously guys, we promise." I know they're going to do it, but I fully expect that they're going to fuck something up really badly in the process and that it's going to kill people and do major ecological damage. Maybe not right away, but sometime in the next fifteen years or so. It just seems to be the way of the world, and I haven't seen anything to make me think that's changed.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:12 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's an awfully pessimistic view of things, but understandable from an outsider. As someone who has worked the Bering and works alongside people who will be working the Chukchi, I see what these crews are going through and it's impressive. I have faith that we won't see any more of these kinds of hiccups. There are too many jobs and too much money riding on it.
posted by holybagel at 8:19 PM on January 1, 2015


The thing is, that each time this happens, the industry addresses what went wrong and moves on to the next weakest link. The problem is catching the weakest link before it fails. If we didn't learn from our mistakes, we'd still be slinging chain on pipe and I'd still be working with oilfield characters with less fingers than their allotted set.

I've been 20 years in the industry, it's far far more professional than it was when I started. The cowboys are being pushed out to pasture (especially given the big crew change) for the very simple reason of liability. Companies don't want guys who screw up, they cost you money in dry wells and are a huge risk from an HSE perspective. The North Sea and Gulf of Mexico are already at the cutting edge of safety, but land operations are catching up. There will, unfortunately, be people who opt not to follow process, but they are in a diminishing minority - people like to stay employed and it's hard to do that when you're the only guy not being safe.
posted by arcticseal at 8:41 PM on January 1, 2015


Hey, it'll be great if they do it right. I'm not exactly a fan of the let's-burn-all-the-oil-as-fast-as-we-can policy that we seem to be pursuing as a civilization, but if we can do it without causing any more ecological damage (aside from disrupting the entire global climate, of course) then that's all to the good. They've just never done it right yet. We're constantly told that they're being careful and taking every precaution, and then every time there's a disaster there's just an absolute laundry list of corners cut, regulations breached, responsibilities avoided, safety precautions bypassed, and warnings ignored.

The linked article is an excellent example of that kind of institutional behavior, where you get the feeling that the folks in charge just weren't hearing anything that they didn't want to and that they were going to ram the mission through no matter what because there was so much money at stake and they didn't want to be the one to tell their bosses that the prudent thing to do was wait another year, raise up those fuel intakes, get some tow shackles that actually had a chain of custody associated with them, hire some people with actual Arctic experience, listen to the people they hired to evaluate their tow plan rather than just firing them and hiring someone else who was willing to give them the thumbs-up in exchange for a nice contract payment, etc.

When I read articles like that I don't just get the impression that we're looking at an incredibly difficult situation where people are trying to do ambitious new things and there are some inevitable problems along the way. I see an organization that on an institutional level pushes everyone involved to cut corners and take unnecessary risks because God forbid that you be the one who sticks their neck out and says "Hey Boss, do you really think we should be doing this?"

I mean, when the Noble Discoverer ran aground after being rushed through a six-month retrofit job in just ten weeks, inspectors found that the crew had been using some kind of "makeshift hose-and-barrel system" that was discharging oily bilgewater into their surroundings, and that they had failed to report multiple engine failures, claiming that they were just "common backfires". The fact that this sort of story is totally unsurprising and in fact depressingly familiar even to someone who pays little more attention to the drilling industry than the average citizen says a lot about the overall institutional mindset that these corporations have.

I don't doubt that they're doing more training. I don't doubt that they're instituting new precautions. What I really doubt is that they've changed their entire corporate mindset and that they are now going to put prudence, safety, and the environment above their bottom line. You can do all the training and institute all the precautions you like, but it only takes one guy saying "screw it, I don't want to get fired for being the guy who made us stay another six weeks in port over a wonky fuel injector" or whatever for things to go horribly awry.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:44 PM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I guess what my position boils down to is the old saying that "actions speak louder than words." We've been listening to the words, and we've seen the resulting actions. More words, no matter how eloquent and reassuring, are not what is needed here. It's going to take a solid generation of actually behaving like they give a shit about safety and prudence, with a concomitant shift in results in terms of not having any more massive ecological catastrophes, before the public is going to be able to even think about trusting this industry again.

Not that it matters, because there's so much money involved and that money so thoroughly saturates the power structures of global society that the oil companies can mostly do as they please regardless of public sentiment. I'm just saying that until I see a few solid decades of different results, I'm going to assume that what I'm hearing (not from you guys, who I'm sure are relating the truth of what you see on the ground and of the changes that you've seen in your surroundings) is basically just lip-service designed to keep the public minimally placated so that they can go on with business as usual.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:09 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's a reasonable stance to take. We have a deservedly poor reputation due to bad performance and it's up to the industry to prove that we can be trusted. That said, thousands of wells are successfully drilled and completed each year, it's like public transportation: we only hear when something disastrous happens.
posted by arcticseal at 10:32 PM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


we only hear when something disastrous happens.

Exactly. There are thousands of rigs and support vessels out there working 24/7 rain or shine. The track record is pretty awesome all things considered, and getting better all the time.
posted by holybagel at 11:00 PM on January 1, 2015


"We're taking more precautions, we're doing more training, we're very conscious of the risks. We're going to do it right this time, and we promise there won't be any problems."

Seriously, can we believe any of that when we KNOW they're just grabbing random rigging, and even such incredibly ancient and mundane practices of just documenting it's certified for use are blown right by.

Simply put, if they can't get THAT right, they can't get ANYTHING right, and apparently the only one around with a clue is the guy who tied the bowline...
posted by mikelieman at 1:13 AM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


arcticseal: drilling in the Arctic can be done safely, it's just a question of commitment.

To which I'd add "piloting this oil tanker/flying this shuttle/building this nuclear reactor... is just a question of commitment". That's Safety Management in a nutshell.

But we've had a whole series of ocean drilling & extraction-related disasters, most (all?) of which were caused by companies ignoring their own safety procedures because, ultimately, Production. And because big oil companies get to negotiate their own set of rules in which to express that commitment. Well, the captain of the Exxon Valdiz was drinking, wasn't he? And the Deepwater Horizon blowout wasn't really BP's fault, it was Transocean/Halliburton's... The Ocean Ranger... Piper Alpha. All companies who failed to do the things they'd committed to do under their own safety management plans. And we won't talk about Shell's behaviour in Nigeria.

My point is that we know how to do various risky operations, and while we claim the best of intentions, we allow regulations to be watered down, and we allow companies to find excuses for various kinds of "substandard" behaviour. People are killed, and there is substantial damage to the environment. Why does BP still exist?

I'd like to see Nuclear as a safe and reliable energy source going forward, but I have serious concerns about how seriously we take our societal commitment to safety management.
posted by sneebler at 10:13 AM on January 2, 2015


I'd like to see Nuclear as a safe and reliable energy source going forward, but I have serious concerns about how seriously we take our societal commitment to safety management.


Aside from the fact that you can't fill a car's gas tank with uranium, the exact same arguments about safety can be made against nuclear.
posted by holybagel at 12:34 PM on January 2, 2015


Funny you should mention cars.

Why Sweden has so few road deaths.

The number one source of job fatalities in the oil industry is automobile accidents.
posted by bukvich at 1:30 PM on January 2, 2015


Number 2 is heart attacks; you did read the line about how heavy those guys were?

I worked with radiation whilst offshore, and to a lesser extent, pressure. Of the two, pressure is the one that scared me the most and the one that has the highest potential to ruin your day in a drastic way if you're not paying attention.
posted by arcticseal at 2:20 PM on January 2, 2015


MeTa (sorta.)
posted by homunculus at 2:22 PM on January 2, 2015


Of the two, pressure is the one that scared me the most and the one that has the highest potential to ruin your day in a drastic way if you're not paying attention.

I unfortunately think about the Byford Dolphin a lot and would like to not do so anymore.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:21 PM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


When it gets pulled on [the bowline knot] just grabs harder and harder, and the rope will break before the knot lets go...

The bowline is a fine, immensely useful knot, but like all knots, it weakens the rope.
1/2-inch double-braid nylon is a dynamic rope ... Its rated breaking strength is 10,800 pounds.

Bowline:
Breaking strength: 5,983 pounds
Percentage of rope’s strength lost: 44.6%
Breaks don't occur within a knot, but it's the knot that weakens the rope. Some knots weaken a rope much less than the bowline, but would be much more difficult to tie under those conditions.

It's not clear whether the cables broke near knots, so I'm not ready to say they were a factor. Also, for all the concern and foreshadowing about the replacement shackles, none of them apparently broke, or caused the lines to break.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:33 PM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The rope that was tied (at least in the article) didn't break.
posted by Mitheral at 4:21 PM on January 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the 120 ton shackle broke. That's what caused the first separation between the tug and the rig. They did a good bit of investigating on it, because one of the possible causes for the break is a manufacturing defect or the use of a shackle that was already compromised by use. But it the end, it seems it's the dynamic loading (over 300 tons to less than 40 at the drum, with a period of less than 15 seconds) that did it: the other 120 ton shackles were tested, and they were fine (the one that failed fell into the ocean).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:04 PM on January 2, 2015


By the way, I think the lede is buried here. Tying a bowline on 3/4" braided steel cable is Badass. It's the most old school sailor thing you could do.

"Nothin else works? Fuck it, try a bowline."
posted by holybagel at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Indeed, holybagel. Whatever we may think about Arctic drilling, at least we can all agree that Chief Engineer Matthews is a stone-cold badass and a prince among sailors.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:34 AM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


And it worked
posted by holybagel at 6:39 PM on January 3, 2015


drilling in the Arctic can be done safely, it's just a question of commitment.

There's no question that attempting to tow the Kulluk across the Gulf in December was the worst kind of idiocy though. That's not ignoring safety, that's ignoring physics.
posted by fshgrl at 11:33 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


All in the name of maintaining the licence. I think there's a case to be made where companies are having logistic difficulties that they can apply and pay to extend the licence rather than lose it, might avoid the rushing that leads to errors being made.
posted by arcticseal at 7:57 AM on January 4, 2015


My reading of the article is that Shell decided to tow the Kulluk to avoid a six million dollar tax bill. The question was where Kulluk was going to spend the winter. Are you saying that Shell might not have rushed to start the entire operation if they didn't have to drill to maintain the license? It did seem as if having everything driven by time pressure was one of the problems with the whole history of the operation. I didn't see any schedule driven reason that Shell had to move the Kulluk which points to management culture again.
posted by rdr at 10:43 AM on January 4, 2015


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