Shell Playing the Waiting Game on Oil Containment Vessel Arctic Challenger
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said during his visit to Anchorage that the delay in drilling in the Chukchi Sea is not because of ice, but because of delays in getting the work finished on the Arctic Challenger.
The Arctic Challenger is a dome-equipped oil containment barge. The dome on the vessel was constructed to be lowered down onto a leaking well to contain oil escaping so that it can then be pumped onto the barge.
Delays in Bellingham have kept the vessel from making its trek north to the Chukchi Sea as the icing season steadily approaches the northern reaches once again.
Although Shell has not made any request to modify its 2012 drilling proposal, Shell Alaska Spokesman Curtis Smith says the oil giant is considering it.
Meanwhile, the re-build of the Arctic Challenger, that was built in 1976, has met with another snag. It was reported out of Bellingham that in recent weeks beginning on July 24th, the workers on the vessel, in their haste to complete the project, have inadvertantly let spill hydraulic oil on three occasions. The most recent of the three spills occurred on August 6th.
While the spills were minimal, limited to about one quart per spill which was contained by containment booms that surround the vessel, the state is threatening fines against the builders. The state Department of Ecology is also investigating a spill of less than 20 gallons of diesel fuel that spilled from one of the small workboats on the project.
Katie Skipper, of Ecology told the Bellingham Herald that "We know they're going fast, but they have to be responsible for protecting the water and following our laws." She went on to say, "This is an oil containment project that's spilling, and the thing is going up to the Arctic, we're hoping that by working with us in our state that we're contributing to whatever efforts they employ when they're in the Arctic."
The Department of Ecology is now requiring Superior Energy Services, the builder, to plug deck drains, set up barriers to catch escaping hydrauli fluid, and to lock the equipment so that it is only operating when it is being supervised.
If Shell intends on drilling the Chukchi this year, it is imperative that the Arctic Challenger receives its Coast Guard certification in the next ten to twenty days.