Congressman Seeks Answers In Arctic Oil-Spill Gear's Failure

Dec 6, 2012

Oil-spill equipment designed to support drilling in the Arctic Ocean was damaged badly in its first field test this fall in Puget Sound near Anacortes. A public radio investigation revealed just how badly. Now a top Congressman is seeking answers, too. Seattle correspondent John Ryan reports.

A piece of oil-spill prevention equipment.
Credit Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (via KUOW Freedom of Information request)

Shell Oil was testing a giant dome designed to capture spilled oil underwater. A federal official witnessing the test said the dome surfaced suddenly and “breached like a whale.” It then sank more than a hundred feet in sheltered waters in Washington state. The dome was “crushed like a beer can,” in the official’s words.

The failure forced Shell to postpone plans to drill for oil off Alaska’s north shore until next summer. The accident has led Democratic Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts to question Shell’s ability to drill in the Arctic. On Wednesday, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee is asking the Obama Administration for a full accounting of the failed test.

Shell says a rebuilt oil-containment dome will be ready for next summer’s drilling season in the Arctic.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio