Shell Drilling Rig Runs Aground, Marks More Trouble For Arctic Oil Operations

A Shell Oil offshore drilling rig ran aground in southern Alaska Monday, marking another in a long series of setbacks for the company's Arctic drilling development.

The Kulluk rig was on its way to maintenance in Puget Sound, Wash. when a severe storm hit and caused it to separate from a tow line.

As of Wednesday morning, there are no reports of spillage. The rig currently carries over 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and other oil products.

The incident has been named as further proof of the region's instability regarding safe oil operations, especially as severe weather has since prevented salvage crews from assessing any damage to the rig.

"The reality is that nature always wins in Alaska," said Lois Epstein, director of The Wilderness Society's Arctic program told NPR. "And this incident clearly demonstrates that."

The oil company, however, remains positive that safe exploration can be done. Although Shell could not complete its proposed six Arctic wells last summer, it is still committed to drilling at least five in July of this year.

"The incident did not involve our drilling operations, nor does it involve any possibility of crude oil release," wrote Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh to the Washington Post. "Through our role in the Unified Incident Command, we quickly mobilized experts to respond to this situation. And, we can confidently say that the Shell emergency response assets and contingences that were deployed over the last four days represent the best available in the world."

The Kulluk was used to drill test wells in the Beaufort Sea last summer. Shell has since announced the suspension of any further drilling in the region due to extreme weather and multiple setbacks regarding the safety and effectiveness of its drilling techniques. 

"Oil companies keep saying they can conquer the Arctic, but the Arctic keeps disagreeing with the oil companies," U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) of the Natural Resources Committee said in a statement. "Drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment."