By Dan Carpenter
Channel 2 News
6:43 PM AKST, December 7, 2012
Recently released emails to the federal Interior Department concerning major failures of its spill cleanup barge are drawing new criticism of Shell Oil's plans to drill in Arctic waters.
The messages were made public after a Freedom of Information Act request was made by a Puget Sound radio station.
A photograph attached to one of the emails show a containment dome damaged during a certification test of the support vessel Arctic Challenger near Bellingham, Wash. in September.
The emails were made public after a freedom of information request was made by Puget Sound public radio station KUOW.
A photograph attached to one of the emails shows a containment dome with its top half severely dented. Shell says the damage occurred when gas escaped from the dome after it rose quickly, causing it to then descend underwater. The emails also mention the use of divers during the test to untangle an underwater robot, something the letter says would prove unsafe in the colder arctic waters.
In one email, Mark Fesmire with the Alaska region of the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement graphically described the dome’s failure in the test.
"Basically the top half is crushed like a beer can," Fesmire wrote.
Massachusetts democratic representative Edward Markey wrote a letter to interior secretary Ken Salazar saying,"...the fact that Shell may have missed warning signals that something was wrong and Shell's problems using ROVs, which could be required in an arctic environment, raise troubling questions about whether Shell can drill safely in this harsh and sensitive area."
Shell, has responded, saying the containment dome has been fixed and they have the resources to respond to a spill in one hour. The dome they say was not a requirement for their arctic operations but it is a fourth line of defense in the event of an underwater gas or oil spill.
On Friday, Curtis Smith with Shell Alaska’s Internal Affairs said, “Our arctic containment vessel is the first of its kind of course. So it took some time to get the engineering right. We have done that. It has now been classified and certified by the US coast guard. :49 We're going to deploy it for regulators one more time before bringing it to Alaska in 2013.”
Shell says they successfully drilled off shore of Alaska in 2012 under very challenging arctic conditions.
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