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Jack-up rig making final tweaks before drilling in Alaska's upper Cook Inlet

Michael ArmstrongHomer News

HOMER -- During a recent tour of the jack-up rig Endeavour-Spirit of Independence, visitors saw safety tape and blocked-off zones, men in coveralls and hard hats working to get the rig shipshape for the fall drilling season. Pipes and wiring spread around the decks. A technician worked on a satellite communications dish. Notes written on walls like "fire extinguisher here" were reminders of work to do. In the galley, weary men filled up on chips, sandwiches and fruit.

Add it all together and the scene answers a question many Homer residents have asked: After about three weeks, why is the Endeavour still moored at Homer's deep-water dock? The short answer is that after a 20-day trip from Singapore on the heavy-lift vessel Keng Sheng Fou, the rig needs work to be ready for drilling in upper Cook Inlet.

An important step in that process is scheduling a U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Compliance inspection. That inspection ensures rig owner Buccaneer Energy complies with requirements for life-saving equipment, cranes, first-extinguishing systems, construction and arrangement, and stability.

Recently, Buccaneer Energy allowed news media to tour the rig. And as part of a dedication ceremony for the Buccaneer, reporters visited along with Buccaneer employees, including CEO Curtis Burton, Australian investors, members of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council (CIRCAC), Homer Mayor James Hornaday and Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer. Seaton had been on a tour in late August that was less formal and didn't include reporters. Larry Smith, a former CIRCAC representative, also was on an earlier tour.

Drilling legs lowered

The tour also showed something Buccaneer guides didn't note: the 410-foot jack-up legs had been lowered to the sea bottom off the Deep Water Dock after two mooring lines broke during a storm about a week ago.

Before the Endeavour is cleared to drill, Coast Guard inspectors from Alaska and the Lower 48 will examine the rig. Once the Endeavour receives its Certificate of Compliance from the Coast Guard, it can leave Homer.

Lt. Sarah Geoffrion, supervisor for U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Homer, said her office has not done an inspection on the Endeavour. Geoffrion's office did look at the ballast record recording requirements for the Keng Sheng Fou to make sure it properly flushed ballast tanks on the high seas, she said.

The Endeavour must complete its Cook Inlet wells by Oct. 31 in the Northwest Unit unless it applies to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for a winter oil spill scenario to be added to its Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan, said Kyle Smith, policy and legislative adviser for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission can order Buccaneer to stop drilling if its equipment isn't properly weatherized and cold weather hinders performance, Smith added.

Buccaneer earlier said it planned to move the Endeavour south to the Cosmopolitan Unit off Anchor Point after drilling in upper Cook Inlet is done. But that might not happen.

Kyle Smith said Buccaneer also needs a Plan of Operations to drill at the Cosmopolitan Unit. As of Monday, Buccaneer had not applied for a permit, he said. It also needs other permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation; the state Department of Natural Resources Division of Mining, Land and Water; the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; the state Department of Fish and Game; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Applying for permits can take two to three months, Kyle Smith said.

'Big things in Alaska'

Jay Morakis of JMR Worldwide, Buccaneer's public relations firm, said permitting for the Cosmopolitan site was delayed because of the time it took for Buccaneer to acquire the lease. He didn't know what would happen if the Cosmopolitan permits don't come through in time.

"Buccaneer plays by the rules," he said. "If permitting is not in place, we'll have to find an alternative dock for the rig. It's that simple."

Morakis said it's too early to tell if that would mean bringing the Endeavour back to Homer.

At the dedication, Buccaneer CEO Curtis Burton, noting that Buccaneer isn't a big company, said he was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe words, "Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts of men."

"We at Buccaneer have always had big dreams," Burton said. "Big dreams for Buccaneer, big dreams for Alaska, big dreams for the energy independence of the U.S. We're a small company that dares to do big things, make big deals, and God willing, we'll do some big things in Alaska with you." 

Burton said he's aware many communities think big oil companies place profit above all else. "We will never place profits ahead of our corporate values at Buccaneer," he said. "Those values include the fact that we will always place the safety of our personnel and our crews and our people working on sites ahead of everything else."

Buccaneer's corporate values also include protecting the environment. Some people say the environment should come first, Burton said.

"If you take care of your people and you take care of the hardware, they will take care of the environment," he said. "That's our pledge."

Check out a detailed description of the Buccaneer rig here.

Used with permission. Homer News reporter Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.