Safety Issues on Arctic Drill Ship

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 @ 04:01 PM gHale

Noble Corporation is working on fixing problems with the drillship Noble Discoverer, identified by the U.S. Coast Guard in an inspection, as well as other potential issues the company found in an internal appraisal.

The U.S. Coast Guard said several components and systems aboard the company’s drillship require attention. The ship’s propulsion and safety management systems were the main concerns.

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Noble also found some other potential regulatory non-compliance problems associated with its operations, comprising likely unlawful collected water disposals taking place outside the period of drilling operations.

Noble intends to equip the ship prior to the Arctic drilling season which starts up in June 2013. The company has already worked out numerous problems with the Noble Discoverer recognized by the Coast Guard.

The current customer of Noble Discoverer — Royal Dutch Shell — and Noble, along with the Coast Guard are assessing the drillship’s operations in Alaska as well as the impact of the 2012 Arctic operating conditions. These assessments are likely to assist the companies in increasing the promptness of the drillship and other drilling assets for 2013.

“The Noble Discoverer will not deploy to Alaska next season until all of the issues have been corrected,” said Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith. He noted the findings were largely associated with the vessel’s marine systems and not related to this year’s drilling activities.

“Shell and Noble completed a safe 2012 Alaska exploration season,” Smith said.

The Noble Discoverer experienced a vibration problem in its propulsion system after leaving the Chukchi Sea in early November, Smith said. An inspection in the Aleutian Islands port of Dutch Harbor was inconclusive. The vibration problem increased, Smith said, as the vessel continued to Seward, a Prince William Sound port about 75 miles southeast of Anchorage. The vessel is self-propelled but constantly in contact with a tug as it is in transit, he said.

Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said by phone from Juneau that Capt. Paul Mehler, the officer in charge of marine inspection for western Alaska, assigned inspectors to the Noble Discoverer when it reached Seward in late November.

“The inspectors noticed several major issues regarding crew safety on board the vessel and also some issues with their pollution prevention equipment,” he said.

The severity of the discrepancies, Wadlow said, led the Coast Guard to issue a “port stay control detention” for the Liberian-flagged vessel.

“It basically keeps the ship in port until they can get those discrepancies addressed and bring themselves back up into compliance with U.S. and international regulations,” Wadlow said.

Of the 16 issues identified, Smith said, they fixed six and they will address 10 others in the shipyard, likely in Seattle, where they were taking the vessel for maintenance. The ship will tow to the Pacific Northwest, he said.

The 571-foot Noble Discoverer at the end of October had completed preliminary drilling at one well at the Burger-A Prospect 70 miles offshore in the Chukchi Sea, but not without adversity. In July while in Dutch Harbor, the vessel lost its mooring and drifted close to shore. What Smith described as a small, residual fire broke out last month when an engine backfired as the vessel was back in the same harbor.

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