Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kulluk Unified Command Continues To Give Pseudo Updates

 I got one email Thursday and another Friday from the Kulluk Unified Command.  It's amazing how they can make the grounding of an oil drilling platform into a Shell celebratory event.  And how they can put out update after update and continue to say absolutely nothing of substance.  

Let's take a look at the last two updates.  To make this as clear as possible, I'm going to use italics for when I'm speaking.  The regular font will be for the Unified Command's Updates and the citations from elsewhere.

DATE: January 17, 2013 4:40:00 PM AKST
For more information contact:
Unified Command Joint Information Center at (907) 433-3417
Update #42: Assessment of data continues for final report
Jan. 17, 2013
Unified Command confirmed the following information today:
What does that mean that they confirmed this information?  To whom?  Are they saying,  Yes this is true?   They've been saying much of this all along.  Or does it mean they confirmed it for themselves, that this is, in fact, true?  

These updates are so terse that they tell us nothing of any substance.  Perhaps they mean something to people in the salvage business, but the words are ambiguous enough, that the general public really can't make a lot of sense out of this.  But then, maybe that is the intention. 
  • The Kulluk remains in stable condition with no reports of a release.
A release?  Oil release is what I think they mean.  But what they tell us later suggests they might also mean "no release of a report."
  • Multiple entities are involved in the assessment of data, including Unified Command, Shell, Smit Salvage and Det Norske Veritas (DNV). Unified Command will not comment on the assessment until the report is finalized.
Smit Salvage is a Dutch firm and was a sponsor of a Salvage and Wreck Removal Conference in London in December 2012.  Their sponsor descriptions says:
SMIT Salvage is part of Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. which is a leading global services provider active in the dredging, maritime infrastructure and maritime services sectors. The company provides creative and innovative all-round solutions to infrastructural challenges in the maritime, coastal and delta regions of the world with the construction and maintenance of ports and waterways, land reclamation, coastal defense and riverbank protection. Boskalis offers a wide variety of marine services through SMIT including harbour towage, salvage, subsea, transport and heavy lift services. It also has strategic partnerships in the Americas, Middle East and Far East for harbour towage and terminal services. Including its share in partnerships, Boskalis employs approximately 14,000 people in around 75 countries across six continents and avails over  a versatile fleet of over 1,100 marine units that SMIT Salvage can call upon in case of emergency response,  wreck removal or environmental projects.
Det Norske Veritas' website tells us:
DNV (Det Norske Veritas) is an independent foundation with the purpose of safeguarding life, property, and the environment. Our history goes back to 1864, when the foundation was established in Norway to inspect and evaluate the technical condition of Norwegian merchant vessels.  .  .

They divide their activities into three operating companies.  The first seems most relevant here:
  • DNV Maritime and Oil & Gas provides classification, verification, risk management and technical advisory services to the global maritime and oil and gas industries
So, if this were actually a new update with the intent of informing the world, through the media, it might tell us what roles these two companies are playing in the assessment.  But no.  All we know is that they are somehow involved.   

Another thing they said up there, before we forget it:
. . .  will not comment on the assessment until the report is finalized.
And why won't they comment on the report yet?  What exactly are they checking?  Is this a standard inspection of a wreck?  What does a standard wreck inspection entail?  Can't they at least tell us that much?  I guess not.

I was able to find something related to this - Oil Companies International Marine Forum's (OCIMF) Ship Inspection Report Programme (SIRE). There you can find protocols (Vessel Inspection Questionnairesfor what I guess are regular inspections of Oil Tankers, Combination Carriers, Shuttle Tankers, Chemical Tankers and Gas Tankers.

Presumably there's something similar for damage assessment inspections of wrecked oil drilling rigs and other vessels in a similar category. There's lots and lots Shell could tell us about the inspection now, without causing any liability issues.  But instead, they say they won't comment.

  • Future plans for the Kulluk will be determined once the report is finalized.
Note the word plan here.  It's a word that Shell uses in its own way.  Here it has an 's' at the end.  Presumably this means 'we'll decide what to do when the report is complete.'  But one would think that they might have some options already set out.  Like, if A then we might keep the Kulluk here a little longer.  If B then we will move the Kulluk to Seattle.  If C . . .  You get the idea.   If they were serious about keeping the public informed, they would be telling us some of these options and the contingencies that would cause them to choose one option or another. Maybe they don't want to alarm us with the possibilities.

  • There are more than 250 people in the Kodiak area responding to the incident.
250 people.  Is that a lot for an operation like this?  How many are working for Shell?  How many are employees of Smit and DNV?  How many are Coast Guard personnel?  How many are locals from the Old Harbor Native Corporation?  And who else is there?  What are they all doing?  How many are doing technical oil rig rescue related work?  How many are support who provide food and shelter and other things necessary to support the technical folks?  Are they all paid or are there some volunteers?  Does this include the attorneys that approve the Updates to make sure they don't say anything that could hurt them when this goes to court or a Congressional hearing?  
  • Unified Command’s priorities continue to be the safety of all personnel and the environment.
We get this line in just about every update.  What level priority is keeping our liability as low as possible?  What priority is making this rescue look as good as possible so it doesn't hurt our future oil drilling in the Arctic?  What priority is Shell's bottom line?  

Here's Friday's Update.  When they report on how responsive to the public they were, they're going to say we had 48+X updates which we made on an almost daily basis.  

I hope that someone looks at the updates or looks at this post to see that these updates told the public almost zilch except what a great job Shell was doing.  
DATE: January 18, 2013 5:49:00 PM AKST
For more information contact:
Unified Command Joint Information Center at (907) 433-3417
Update #43: Kulluk stable as damage assessment data review continues
I'm sure the fact that the Kulluk is stable is important.  But what exactly does it mean?  There are no changes?  The water isn't rocking the Kulluk.  It's not getting worse?  I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with horses. 
Jan. 18, 2013
The data gathering phase of the Kulluk assessment has been completed. Unified Command confirmed the following information today:
  • There were a total of 12 divers and one ROV (remotely operated vehicle) used during the assessment process in Kiliuda Bay. The divers operated during daylight hours and functioned as data gatherers.
This is something.  We now know what 12 of the 250 people they reported (in Update #42) working on this are doing.  What about the others?
  • No one was injured while performing the assessment.
We're glad to hear this.  Really.  But the Kulluk is in a protected harbor now and they keep telling us that everything is stable and that they have zillions of the best people in the world working on this.  Is there something you aren't telling us about how dangerous this is?  Is that why you keep telling us that no one was injured?  How many people are injured and die in the typical rescue of this sort?  

I'm not so sure we can say that public awareness has not been injured by the lack of information coming out of these updates.  
  • Multiple entities are involved in the review of data, including: the U.S. Coast Guard, Shell, Smit Salvage and Det Norske Veritas. These reports involve precise calculations; it is important to ensure the accuracy of any reports in order to develop the next steps for the Kulluk. At this time there is no firm date for completion of the damage assessment report.
First, you gave us this list of who was involved in the last report.  The only change is that in Update #43 (this one) U.S. Coast Guard replaces Unified Command.  But that's a wording change, not a substantive change.

Second, duh.  We assume that precise calculations are involved.  Is this supposed to impress people with how professional you are? [Sorry, I seem to have shifted from the third to second person here.]  Please don't insult us.  Maybe you could tell us some of the kinds of things data were collected on?  What are the measurements you took and what will they tell you?  Or are we too ignorant to understand any of this?  Or are you afraid we might understand?

OK, there's no firm date for the completion of the damage assessment report.  Can you give us a ballpark estimate?  Will it be a day or two?  A week or two?  A month or two?  Was the talk about not moving the Kulluk until after the Tanner Crab Season ends just fluff to make us think you cared, when you knew you weren't going to move the Kulluk before then anyway?
  • Once the damage report is completed, the Kulluk and any plans to move the vessel will be evaluated before it is moved to its next location.
"Any plans to move the vessel will be evaluated."  This could be interpreted in several different ways.  One would be that there might not be any plans.  We're just going to abandon the Kulluk in Kiliuda Bay.  Maybe you'll tell us how sinking abandoned oil drilling rigs makes a great habitat for tanner crabs.  

But I really don't think that is what you meant.  But that 'any' in the sentence is like a wildcard.  Like,  'if there are any plans.'  I know, I'm being obnoxious here, but you give us so little to work with that it's like trying to parse the new releases from the Chinese Communist Party.  What exactly might each word mean?  Why don't you just tell us?  Maybe we need to get Will Shortz working on this. 

I guess you mean, before we move the vessel we will look at each of the alternative plans carefully, but we're sure as hell not going to share any of that with you.
  • Water did enter some spaces of the vessel through damaged hatches. However, the water has been captured and is being safely stored in a compartment.
Translation:  Something bad happened,  but all you need to know is that we fixed it and everything is fine. Aren't we great?
  • The damage discovered on the Kulluk is consistent with what is expected from a vessel of this type being on hard ground. The fuel tanks are intact.
How much do you pay these guys to write this stuff?  "The damage. . . is consistent with what is expected from a vessel of this type being on hard ground."  

That's like saying, about a head on collision, "The damage is consistent with this sort of collision" without telling us that the cars were totaled and everyone was killed.   

Is this a way to avoid telling us the damage, a way that makes us think this is just a normal oil rig on the rocks situation, nothing to worry about?   How many oil rigs end up on hard ground? I can't find any others by googling. And what damage is expected when that happens?  You obviously know what damage happened or you wouldn't be able to say it is 'the level expected.'  So why not just tell us instead of making us try to find out what is normal for this sort of accident?
  • Points of entry for water into the Kulluk are being sealed (i.e., windows and hatches). Additionally, tow brackets are being added for preparation for the next move.
Like with all these releases, you artfully skip over the damage and tell us how nicely you are taking care of things.  But you do actually tell us something - that water got in where it shouldn't and there will be a next move - though that it isn't something we didn't already assume.
  • Unified Command’s priorities continue to be the safety of all personnel and the environment.
This ending line is getting so standard on these updates it's like "Sincerely Yours" at the end of a letter.  It means nothing.

Do I sound a bit cynical here?  I know, you're probably saying that I should ask these questions directly to the Unified Command and give them a chance to answer.  

Well, I did that before posting this.  I'll share the query - I just focused on one sentence of the update - and their response in a later post.   

One more thing:  While I'm focusing on Shell here, the US Coast Guard is part of the Unified Command that is releasing these updates.  The Coast Guard should be insisting that more information be released to the public.  They are now becoming complicit in this information blockade. 


  1. If the USCG has indeed become complicit in managing the release of information solely to Shell's benefit, it would surprise nobody familiar with the way information releases were handled in the far, far worse Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. Or, for that matter, how the USCG still is dealing with public access to information about its activities throughout the DHOS response.

    One only needs compare that 2010 event to the Unified Command's handling of this ongoing one, to come up with a template for how the inevitable Chukchi or Beaufort Sea spill will be handled, sometime between 2014 and 2020.

    Maybe we should bid on the job of writing the pre-press releases for that, now Steve? All we need to do is set up an office in Amsterdam, London or Oslo, and fake a company history that goes back to cleaning up after the Spanish Armada, or the 2nd Battle of Copenhagen, or .....

  2. Phil, going thru these updates like this does help me see how empty of content they are and how contemptuous of the public they are. To someone looking casually, they probably seem, innocuous or even responsive. But when you see regular releases and read them carefully, you see they are essentially saying, "We're not going to tell you anything and we don't have to."

    And even I was too lazy in my thinking to question the Norwegian 'foundation's' history. Though I did wonder about the idea of it being a foundation. I guess it's time to cultivate Norwegian and Dutch contacts.

  3. Here's another example of Shell's fantastic (self)promotion and PR:

    Shell Makes More Food Deliveries Near Kodiak -,0,2634266.story

  4. Well, it looks like AP is a cooperating partner in this one. And those news outlets that reported it.


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