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Coast Guard Approves Arctic Oil-Spill Barge Design

John Ryan

The Coast Guard has reduced the safety features it's requiring for the nation's first vessel designed to contain an oil spill in the Arctic. The Arctic Challenger is now under construction on the Bellingham waterfront.


Shell said last year it would build the Arctic Challenger to withstand a fierce, once–a–century Arctic storm with waves up to 25 feet tall. But this month, the oil company asked to meet a lesser standard.

The Coast Guard has agreed that the Challenger only needs to withstand 20–foot waves. The Arctic sees waves that big about once a decade.

The Arctic Challenger is a barge outfitted to contain blow–outs at undersea oil wells. Coast Guard officials say it can be towed to a harbor if any larger storms approach.

Recent construction delays could jeopardize Shell Oil's plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean this year.

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh declined to answer questions about the delays, but she said Shell remains confident it will be able to start drilling in early August. That's during the brief, ice–free window in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Coast Guard officials say "major safety systems" on the Challenger, including electrical and fire extinguishing systems, are still not complete. They have to be finished, inspected and approved before Arctic drilling gets the federal go–ahead.

I'm John Ryan, KUOW News.

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