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Shell Delays Arctic Oil Drilling Until 2013

John Ryan

Problems in Puget Sound have led Shell Oil to cancel its plans for drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean this year. KUOW's John Ryan reports from the Bellingham waterfront.


The Arctic Challenger is Shell's oil–spill containment barge. It's here behind me at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal. It's supposed to be in place in the Arctic to help mop up any oil spills. It's been under construction here for months.

A tugboat pulled it out into Puget Sound so its "containment dome" could be tested in 160 feet of water. That dome is supposed to suck up oil that could spew if an oil well blows out.

The Challenger was towed back to harbor on Sunday. It had failed a key test.

Shell released a statement saying the containment dome had been damaged during the test, but would not provide more details. Federal inspectors also declined to provide any details.

Shell now needs to repair whatever damage occurred as well as get the rest of the Challenger inspected by the Coast Guard.

Earlier delays in the barge's construction had already forced Shell to cut back its drilling plans for this year. This new delay means Shell won't get to drill for oil until next summer.

Even with the Arctic Challenger still stuck here in Bellingham, the company did get federal permission last month to drill into the Arctic sea floor — just not into any oil–bearing zones. But Shell had to interrupt that drilling after just one day, a 30–mile–long ice sheet started drifting toward the drilling site.

Shell hopes to get more preparatory drilling done before sea ice returns in force for the long Arctic winter.

In Bellingham, I'm John Ryan, KUOW News.

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