BELLINGHAM - The delay-plagued Shell Oil barge that would provide oil-spill containment for Arctic drilling has hit another bump: The project now needs environmental permits.
The Washington Department of Ecology announced Thursday, Sept. 20, that it will require the companies retrofitting the Arctic Challenger to apply for stormwater permits.
Greenberry Industrial, which is doing the fabrication, and Superior Energy Services, which has been installing the containment system on the barge, have been discharging stormwater from their projects without permits, according to Ecology. The Arctic Challenger is being worked on at the Port of Bellingham shipping terminal on Cornwall Avenue.
When Ecology inspected the site in May, officials determined stormwater permits should have been obtained for that type of work. Because the project at that time was expected to wrap up at the end of July, before the two months it usually takes to obtain a permit, Ecology allowed it to proceed without the permits.
The Arctic Challenger was thought to be completed last week and headed out of port for mandatory tests on its seaworthiness and safety. It returned damaged, though the companies involved have not stated how the damage happened.
Because the vessel isn't ready, Shell announced this week it will drill shallow "top holes" in the Arctic this year but will be unable to go deep enough to reach oil-bearing formations. It was a blow to Shell's $4.5 billion attempt to be the first company in two decades to drill in the offshore Alaska Arctic.
Not only is the barge still being worked on, Greenberry has told Ecology it intends to pursue more industrial projects. Superior plans to return the Arctic Challenger to the shipping terminal for maintenance, repair and upgrades.
Given those issues, Ecology is requiring permits. Stormwater permits protect water quality by requiring industry-recognized steps to prevent pollution, regular inspection and sampling of runoff, and reporting how much pollution is in the runoff. Reporting pollution above limits can result in state fines.
The companies have until Sept. 28 to apply.
Details of Greenberry's plans were updated Sept. 20.
Reach DEBBIE TOWNSEND at email@example.com or call 715-2280.