Shell’s Arctic ‘beer can’ passes federal test in Puget Sound

BSEE photo of damaged containment dome on board the Arctic Challenger in Sept. 2012

The Arctic Challenger’s containment dome, crumpled after a field test in Puget Sound in Sept. 2012. Credit: BSEE

Shell Oil had to postpone its Arctic drilling for a full year after one of its oil rigs ran aground off the Alaska coast this winter. But Shell’s efforts to open a new frontier of oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean continue in Puget Sound.

The oil giant passed a key test with federal regulators last month in the waters off Anacortes, Washington.

It took several tries, and neither Shell nor the federal government announced the results.

But a contractor successfully deployed Shell’s Arctic oil-spill containment system in Samish Bay in March.

Crews from Superior Energy Services lowered a steel dome over the side of Shell’s Arctic Challenger barge.

They anchored the dome in 150 feet of water and successfully sucked up seawater at a rate of about 2,000 gallons a minute.

That’s what the dome’s supposed to do if a blown-out well gushes oil and gas from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.

Earlier tests of the containment dome had gone badly. In September, the 20-foot dome wound up “crushed like a beer can.”

In an email, Nicholas Pardi with the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said the spill system handled more than twice the volume of oil that’s expected in a worst-case well blowout.

Pardi did not respond to KUOW’s requests to interview one of the two BSEE officials who were on board the Arctic Challenger.

Nor did he provide the requested documentation of the test results.

On his first day in office, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to take steps to make his administration the most transparent ever.

Here’s President Obama speaking to world leaders on transparency in 2011.

Obama: “We pledge to be more transparent at every level. Because more information on government activities should be open, timely and freely available to the people.”

But journalists and open-government advocates complain that many agencies—from the EPA to the FDA— didn’t seem to get the memo.

It can be difficult or impossible to get many Obama administration officials to answer questions.

Curtis Smith of Shell-Alaska declined to comment on the successful test of the oil-spill system, except to say that Shell has a 10-day information blackout before its quarterly earnings reports.


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