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Shell, feds under fire for Alaska oil work

Dec. 6, 2012 at 7:36 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- A U.S. lawmaker said there are new questions about the ability to explore arctic oil and gas reserves safely given problems with a spill response system.

Seattle public broadcaster KUOW this week reported that it obtained internal email from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement regarding a September test of a containment dome deployed by Shell offshore Alaska.

The documents, KUOW says, described the test as a failure. One operator described the containment dome as shooting to the surface, sinking again and finally retrieved. Then, BSEE officials find "the top half (of the containment dome) is crushed like a beer can."

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, expressed concern about the KUOW report in a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"Shell's unsuccessful test in Puget Sound raises new questions about the company's ability to successfully drill offshore in the arctic and, more generally, about the ability of containment devices to function properly in the harsh arctic environment," his letter reads.

Shell in November said that, after weeks of "safe" and "successful" drilling in arctic waters off Alaska, it concluded its exploratory program for 2012 because of seasonal issues.

In September, it announced it was abandoning parts of its drilling program there after the containment dome designed for a potential oil spill in arctic waters was damaged. Salazar applauded Shell for its commitment to what he said were "rigorous" safety standards.

Shell had no immediate response to Markey's comments or the KUOW report.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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