Update, Oct. 7: This article has been updated with new information about the jack-up rig Randolph Yost’s ownership and destination.
A jack-up drilling rig that first passed through Homer in March 2016 returned to Kachemak Bay on Sunday in preparation to leave the state. Two tugs with Foss Maritime Towing pulled the Randolph Yost into the bay the morning of Oct. 3. Over the week, crews with the 653-foot heavy-lift vessel Falcon worked to load the Randolph Yost and secure it for transport.
The jack-up rig will be moved to India on the weekend of Oct. 8-11, according to an email from its previous owner, Shelf Drilling.
The crew of the Falcon also got a visit from some Homer residents — a trip on Tuesday by Homer Public Health nurse Lorne Carroll and South Peninsula Hospital Community Health Educator and nurse Annie Garay to adminster COVID-19 vaccines.
Heavy-lift vessels like the Falcon load rigs by taking on water as ballast and submerging the ship so the middle deck is underwater. Tugs then move the floating rig over the ship, the water is pumped out, and the ship rises up under the rig, loading it onboard — a process called float on-float off.
The Randolph Yost was brought up in 2016 to drill by Furie Operating Alaska in the Kitchen Lights for five years as part of oil and gas exploratory efforts in upper Cook Inlet. John Hendrix, a Homer-raised entrepreneur, bought Furie Operating Alaska in a bankrupt sale last July, but didn’t purchase the Randolph Yost contract.
“We don’t have plans to use that platform,” Hendrix said in a phone interview on Monday. “We’re a gas company. We produce straight natural gas, clean energy.”
Online records show that as of March 4, 2021, Shelf Drilling had listed the Randolph Yost as part of its inventory, with a note that it is being held for sale. In an email on Oct. 6, Shelf Drilling wrote that the rig has been sold and that it is being transported to India.
The Randolph Yost has been docked for more than a year at the OSK Dock near Nikiski, said Steve Catalano, director of operations for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council. He said he didn’t know the rig’s exact ownership or future use.
“All I know is she’s leaving the inlet,” he said. “That’s the last we’re going to see of her.”
Bob Shavleson, who is stepping down as advocacy director for Cook Inletkeeper, said seeing the rig in Kachemak Bay is a reminder of the George Ferris, a drilling rig that got stuck in Mud Bay in the 1970s.
“Here’s this drill rig darkening our horizons,” he said. “It brings back memories of the George Ferris and the buybacks of the mid-1970s and what it would be like to have oil rigs in Kachemak Bay.”
With federal oil and gas lease sales proceeding in lower Cook Inlet, Shavelson said oil rigs could be a common sight.
“When you stand on the Homer Spit and look at Augustine (Volcano), you’re going to look at a nice constellation of oil rigs,” he said.
On its first visit to Homer five years ago, the Randolph Yost was moored at the Deep Water Dock after its arrival and being offloaded from a heavy-lift vessel. The rig remained at the dock through April 2016.
Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins said shipping agents contacted his office to arrange for dock space if needed, but that otherwise the Randolph Yost and the Falcon did not dock in Homer.
Crews on the Falcon did get one service from Homer: a visit by Public Health and South Peninsula Hospital nurses to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the foreign crew on the ship. The ship’s agent contacted Public Health about providing vaccines.
“I said, ‘Of course,’” Garya said Annie Garay. “It was a good opportunity to get out there and meet folks where they’re at. We had availability of vaccine.”