Damaged Shell icebreaker arrives in Oregon for repairs

AP News
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Posted: Jul 25, 2015 8:21 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Environmental activists in Portland are protesting the arrival of the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project after it's repaired.

The damaged ship, a 380-foot icebreaker, arrived at a Swan Island dry dock about 3 a.m. Saturday. The icebreaker is a key part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska's northwest coast. It protects Shell's fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil.

The Fennica was damaged earlier this month in the Aleutian Islands when it struck an underwater obstruction, tearing a gash in its hull.

About 75 "kayaktivists" and other protesters in boats were on the water Saturday afternoon, near where the Fennica is docked, holding a peaceful on-the-water rally against arctic offshore drilling, activist Mia Reback said. No arrests have been made.

Environmental groups had wanted the Obama administration to reject permits sought by Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea because of the absence of the icebreaker.

But earlier this week, the federal government gave Shell approval to begin limited exploratory oil drilling in Chukchi Sea, with conditions. Shell can only drill the top sections of wells because the company doesn't have critical emergency response equipment on site to cap a well in case of a leak. That equipment is aboard the Fennica.

The missing safety equipment is called a capping stack, a roughly 30-foot-tall device that can be lowered onto a wellhead to stop gushing oil after a blowout or connect to hoses to direct oil to vessels on the surface.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a statement that Shell could submit an amended application for deeper drilling when the capping stack can be deployed within 24 hours.

"President Obama ignored the will of the people earlier this week when he undercut his climate legacy and gave conditional approval to Shell to drill in the Arctic," Dan Ritzman, director of Sierra Club's Arctic campaign, said in a statement.

Environmentalists worry the Arctic's remoteness and rugged conditions will hamper cleanup efforts in the event of a spill, risking devastation of a fragile marine ecosystem.

But proponents of arctic drilling say it can be conducted safely with existing technologies and that future production will help sustain the country's energy needs and limit reliance on imports.

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said by email earlier this week that receipt of the drilling permits signals the end of the permitting process, and drilling will begin when the area is clear of sea ice. Both of Shell's drill rigs are on their way to the Chukchi sea.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic offshore reserves in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas at 26 billion barrels of recoverable oil.