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Shell's spill containment dome was 'crushed like a beer can' in Sept. testing

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  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published December 3, 2012

The oil spill containment system that Shell was supposed to have on-site in the Arctic before starting offshore drilling this summer was badly damaged in September testing, reports public radio station KUOW in Seattle, citing emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Delays in testing of the system led to Shell being restricted to only preliminary shallow drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska this year.

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement required the test of the oil-spill system. According to BSEE internal emails obtained by KUOW, the containment dome test was supposed to take about a day. That estimate proved to be wildly optimistic. ...

Day 5: The test has its worst accident. On that dead-calm Friday night, Mark Fesmire, the head of BSEE's Alaska office, is on board the Challenger. He's watching the underwater video feed from the remote-control submarine when, a little after midnight, the video screen suddenly fills with bubbles. The 20-foot-tall containment dome then shoots to the surface. The massive white dome "breached like a whale," Fesmire e-mails a colleague at BSEE headquarters.

Then the dome sinks more than 120 feet. A safety buoy, basically a giant balloon, catches it before it hits bottom. About 12 hours later, the crew of the Challenger manages to get the dome back to the surface. "As bad as I thought," Fesmire writes his BSEE colleague. "Basically the top half is crushed like a beer can."