ENVIRONMENT
01/04/2013 02:51 am ET Updated Mar 06, 2013

Grounded Shell Oil Rig Off Alaska Coast Still Has No Flooding Or Sheening, Despite Damage

In this image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows two life rafts sit on the beach adjacent as the conical drilling unit Ku
In this image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows two life rafts sit on the beach adjacent as the conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. The Kulluk grounded after many efforts by tug vessel crews and Coast Guard crews to move the vessel to safe harbor during a winter storm.Calls for federal scrutiny of Royal Dutch Shell PLC drilling operations in Arctic waters swelled Thursday with a request for a formal investigation by members of Congress. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter)

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Jan 3 (Reuters) - A Shell oil drilling rig grounded off an Alaska island since a New Years Eve storm has suffered damage from waves and flooding but has spilled none of the 155,000 gallons of fuel and other oil products aboard, officials managing the incident said on Thursday.

Salvage experts were flown to the stricken Kulluk drillship on Wednesday and Thursday, which remains upright and stable not far from Kodiak Island, officials said at a news conference.

"There is no evidence of sheening in the vicinity," said Sean Churchfield, Royal Dutch Shell's Alaska operations manager and the company's emergency response coordinator.

Salvage crews found some wave damage to the vessel's topside and several breached hatches that caused water damage inside, he said. Generators had also been damaged and new ones may have to be moved in to provide power to move the vessel, he said.

It remains unclear how serious the damage is or how long it will take to move the Kulluk away from the site, officials said.

Churchfield said he could not comment on how the grounding would affect Shell's 2013 drilling plans.

But Pete Slaiby, Shell's vice president for Alaska operations, gave a presentation to the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly in which he said he hoped the salvage operation would be "short term" - meaning more like days rather than months.

"We are encouraged at what we are seeing with the integrity of the hull," he told the assembly meeting, which was broadcast over radio.

Earlier, Coast Guard Captain Paul Mehler III told the news conference that, at his request, marine casualty investigators were on their way to Alaska from the Coast Guard's Center of Excellence in New Orleans. Findings from the Coast Guard investigation will be made public, Mehler said.

Area residents are concerned about conflicts with upcoming commercial fishing seasons and traditional food-gathering activities, state and local officials said.

Another concern is the vulnerability of a nearby site that is important to the region's native Alutiiq people, officials said.

Sitkalidak Island, where the Kulluk is grounded, was the site of a notorious 18th-century massacre in which Russian colonial forces killed hundreds of Alutiiq men, women and children.

The site, called "Refuge Rock," is "probably the most culturally significant place" for residents of the nearby village of Old Harbor, said Duane Dvorak, a community liaison from the Kodiak Island Borough.

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