Windstorm Forces Drastic Action as Rig Collides With City Dock
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Photo by Bill Smith
Buccaneer Energy’s jack-up rig “Endeavor” was originally supposed to be in Kachemak Bay for only six days before moving on to drill near Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet. Due to work being done to the massive rig, however, it has been in place outside the Homer harbor for almost a month. And now, the rig has done something that is normally not allowed in Kachemak Bay – it has lowered its 410-foot legs down to the sea floor.
The last time a jack-up oil rig put down its legs in Kachemak Bay was in 1976, when the Standard Oil-owned George Ferris rig set up in nearly the same spot that Buccaneer Energy’s “Endeavor” is in now. After the Ferris became stuck in 80 feet of mud, an underwater demolition team had to be called in to blow the rig’s legs up, in order to free it.
The incident produced an oil sheen that stretched for several miles and the resulting public outcry caused the state of Alaska to rescind oil leases in Kachemak Bay and declare it a critical habitat area.
When the Endeavor extended its legs to the bottom of the bay last weekend, it was not to drill for oil or gas – it was in response to a massive windstorm that wreaked havoc all over southcentral Alaska.
Homer Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins says that his staff and the crew of the Endeavor prepared for the storm by using two high-powered tugboats to hold the rig in place.
"We were concerned that with the wind speeds ... they might not be able to hold it," said Hawkins.
Hawkins says officials with Buccaneer made the call that if the strain on the tugboats became too much – if they reached 50-percent of their maximum pulling capacity – or if the mooring lines began to part – they would make the call to lower the rig’s three legs in order to stabilize it.
Hawkins says that's exactly what happened at about 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon and officials made the call to put the legs down.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the legs were still down – Hawkins said that is in preparation for another round of windy weather forecasted for Tuesday and Wednesday.
One troubling byproduct of the incident, says Hawkins, is damage that occurred to the city’s deepwater dock when the Endeavor slammed into it. Hawkins says the City of Homer will charge Buccaneer Energy for the damage.
Another problem for Buccaneer is the potential consequences of violating the state’s rules regarding the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.
Ginny Litchfield is a habitat biologist in the Soldotna office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. She is the one who will decide if Buccaneer has violated Kachemak Bay’s critical habitat designation and, if so, what the penalty might be.
"Right now, we're wating on documentation of the decision-making process and how that all came about," said Litchfield.
Litchfield says she expects that documentation by the end of this week. She would not comment on whether an exception to the designation might be made for an emergency situation – nor would she say what the potential consequences might be.
Hawkins says Buccaneer’s crew on the Endeavor has been “a pleasure to work with.” He says the company has provided an economic boost, in the form of dockage and other fees paid to the city and temporary jobs created aboard the rig.
Hawkins says he does not when the rig, which arrived in Kachemak Bay August 24th, will be leaving for its first planned drilling project near Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet.
Attempts to reach executives for Buccaneer Energy through the company’s public relations firm, JMR Worldwide, were unsuccessful. KBBI News will continue to try to reach Buccaneer for comment for this story.