A drilling ship leased by Royal Dutch Shell Plc to begin exploring for offshore oil in the Arctic this summer drifted off its moorings this weekend while anchored off the Alaskan coast and narrowly missed the shore.
Shell said a remotely operated vehicle sent to inspect the drilling ship found no sign of damage or evidence it ran aground, but the incident adds to the challenge of launching on time the company's controversial plan to drill in Alaska--one of the most expensive exploration bets it's ever undertaken.
Shell's efforts are being closely watched by authorities and faces stiff opposition from environmentalists; the U.S. Coast Guard has yet to approve an oil response vessel that's critical to the effort, even as the clock ticks on the short summer window the company has to start drilling in the Arctic's harsh environment.
"They don't want to start on the wrong foot," said Fadel Gheit, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. "All eyes are now on Alaska."
On Saturday, the drillship Noble Discoverer, owned by Noble Corp., drifted toward land while anchored off Dutch Harbor, Alaska. A Shell support vessel quickly towed the drillship back to its original anchoring point, the company said.
Shell said that a dive team will conduct an inspection to confirm no damage took place, most likely on Monday.
The company said that while it is conducting an internal probe to find out why the vessel went adrift, the company is "pleased with the speed and effectiveness" of its response. "Any lessons from this incident will be applied to future operations, here and elsewhere."
The intensity of scrutiny on offshore drilling, especially in environmentally sensitive Alaska, has increased since a 2010 blast destroyed a drilling rig leased by BP Plc in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and unleashing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Shell said that its "goal remains flawless operations."
It said, "Even a 'near miss' is unacceptable."