Unalaska firefighters responded to a stack backfire aboard the drillship Noble Discoverer Friday morning in Dutch Harbor, after it completed Shell Oil’s first season of exploratory Arctic offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea last month.
According to Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith, the backfire occurred in one of the Noble Discoverer’s smokestacks just before noon Friday. Shell didn’t call local firefighters, who responded as a precaution without boarding the rig.
"Upon engine start up in Dutch Harbor, Alaska this morning the Noble Discoverer experienced a loud engine backfire followed by a small, residual fire that was quickly extinguished by the crew," Smith said in a Friday statement. "The Discoverer was never in danger and there are no injuries. The Noble Discoverer remains on schedule to depart for Seward, Alaska in the very near future."
Smith likens the explosion to a car backfiring, caused by an imbalance of fuel and air, and says the incident is under investigation. Crews are checking to see if any equipment was damaged.
The Noble Discoverer’s journey to Alaska this year has been an adventurous one, with Greenpeace protesters including actress Lucy Lawless boarding the vessel at a New Zealand port in February as part of an attempt to delay its departure. Lawless and the protesters were subsequently arrested, and the incident prompted Shell to successfully request an injunction against the environmental group.
In July, the Noble Discoverer nearly grounded in Dutch Harbor when one of its anchors apparently dragged, and a Coast Guard helicopter medevaced a crew member with an irregular heartbeat in August.
Shell wrapped up its 2012 offshore drilling operations in the Beaufort Sea last month, with Smith telling the Los Angeles Times that the company was “very pleased” given the difficulties -- including halts due to shifting sea ice -- that it had faced.