Damaged Shell icebreaker, key to offshore drilling project, arrives in Oregon

“This is obviously a disappointing approval, but at least the Administration made it clear that Shell can not actually drill for oil until or unless the Fennica, its latest piece of damaged equipment, makes it back from repairs in Portland”, Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change worldwide, said in a statement.


Many environmental groups wanted the current administration to not allow Shell to operate in the Chukchi Sea, mainly because no icebreaker vessel was present. Shell already had an accident in the Arctic the first time it tried to drill there in 2012, when a harsh winter storm hit and the company lost control of a rig. In its news brief announcing the Shell Application for Permits to Drill (APD) approval, the US Department of Interior Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) described the permitted exploration and tight restrictions involved. Certain oil-rich areas might be briefly off limits to drilling due to points with Shell’s security gear, and Shell will probably be prevented from drilling two…

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.

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.

That view is apparently held by at least a few members of the US Congress. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the “Stop Arctic Ocean Drilling Act of 2015” last week, legislation co-sponsored by Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Burger Prospect is located in about 140 feet of water, 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright. The vessel is basically an ice protection for the fleet and also carries equipment for stopping gushing oil.

Top-hole work begins with a mud-line cellar, an excavation to house the blowout preventer beneath the ocean floor, where it can’t be scraped by the bottom of a passing iceberg. As such, Shell is prohibited from conducting simultaneous drilling activity at these wells. Top-hole work also involves drilling to about 1,300 feet and setting a foundation for the well to grow in depth. The vessel’s hull received a gash roughly 3-feet long and a half-inch wide July 3 as it departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

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Protesters in kayaks gather by the Portland dry dock where the Fennica sits to oppose drilling in the Arctic