Two weeks after reports first emerged about Shell’s failure to receive Coast Guard certification for its Arctic oil spill recovery barge, delays continue to stall the project. The Los Angeles Times reports:
“Coast Guard officials said Thursday that several important systems remained to be installed before they could certify the oil spill containment vessel. Sources familiar with the multimillion-dollar refurbishing underway in Bellingham, Wash., said it was clear that the 38-year-old barge would not be ready for sea trials by July 23—a date recently set after a previous schedule was scrapped.”
The barge is designed to be a first responder for a potential oil spill in the region, including carrying equipment designed to cap and siphon oil from a blown out well in the event of an accident. As of this week, it still lacked operational anchors and required further work to its piping, catwalks, electrical wiring, and lifeboats, “all theoretically simple, but time-consuming” to install. Equally troubling is the current lack of necessary weights “that would anchor the containment dome over the top of an oil spill.”
Furthermore, Shell has sought to reduce the necessary standard for the barge from a “100 year storm,” to a “10 year storm,” on the basis that it can be repositioned more easily than a drilling ship in the event of such a storm.
Though Shell continues to state that they are “not going to cut corners and move quickly where it doesn’t make prudent sense,” the company has faced setbacks that suggest it has overestimated its fleet’s ability to minimize environmental impacts in such an extreme environment.
After Shell’s drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, ran adrift last weekend, this latest report marks yet another setback to Shell’s efforts to drill in Alaska this summer. Due to the challenging and remote nature of the Arctic, Shell has had to assemble a spill response team that is self-contained. With one full month of summer gone and the centerpiece of Shell’s response plan still docked in Washington State, and the icepack taking longer than expected to retreat, this latest setback raises serious concerns about their response readiness.
If such setbacks continue, at some point, Shell and the federal government will have to reevaluate whether it will be possible for the company to meet operating requirements in the region at all this year.