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Damaged Shell icebreaker arrives in Oregon for repairs

Created: 07/25/2015 1:21 PM
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Authorities say the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project, has arrived in Oregon for repairs.

Portland Police officials said the 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.

Environmental groups, which oppose arctic offshore drilling, 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.

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.

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.

Local activists in Oregon said heavy security around the Fennica as it arrived in Portland prevented protesters from getting close to the ship. But several 'kayaktivists' were in the water overnight, and they spelled out a giant #ShellNo light sign. Activists say more protests are planned as the icebreaker is being repaired.

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.

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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