Oil rig, run aground off Alaskan coast, shows importance of safe drilling practices

The arctic, while tempting to oil and gas companies, presents unique challenges. High-quality oil production equipment is essential for success in harsh conditions.

Shell's ongoing efforts to tap into deep water fuel reserves off the coast of Alaska recently encountered a fresh obstacle when one of its drilling rigs, the Kulluk, ran aground on New Year's Eve.

According to Reuters, two tug boats had attempted to control the drift of the oil rig, which does not have its own propulsion system. However, after being dragged more than 10 miles toward shore, the crews cut the drilling ship loose to ensure their own safety. The crew of the Kulluk had been evacuated by helicopter two days earlier, after the rig first became separated from its tow ship.

Officials recently announced that the rig is "upright and stable" on Sitkalidak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. Salvage experts have inspected the vessel and there is not believed to be any structural damage that poses an immediate risk of a fuel spill. However, Coast Guard representatives say that it is too early for a detailed recovery timeline.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the New York Times that although there was no sign of a spill, it was difficult to be certain what condition the Kulluk was in.

This is not the first mishap to interrupt Shell's exploration efforts in the area. The company halted drilling in September due to unexpected equipment failures.

Reuters suggests that Shell has spent approximately $4.5 billion preparing to drill in the Arctic, including nearly $300 million for upgrades to the Kulluk. However, the company has yet to complete any viable oil and gas wells.

This case shows why high-quality oilfield equipment is essential for drilling in adverse conditions. Companies need to complete drill stem testing and begin extraction as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to maximize the return on their investment.