Oil well spill response barge taking shape on city waterfront

BELLINGHAM - More than 200 workers at Bellingham Shipping Terminal are busy assembling the giant components of an oil well spill containment system that will be installed on a 315-foot barge expected to be in service in the Arctic Ocean by this summer.

The big rig is being put together by Greenberry Industrial, a Vancouver, Wash.-based firm with manufacturing facilities in Ferndale. Superior Energy Services of Houston will own and operate it. The work is being done on land leased from the Port of Bellingham.

Scott Powell, Superior's vice president of marine technical services, said the job should be complete by late May or early June. In the final phase, the big modules now under construction at the waterfront site will be eased onto the barge by a giant crane. Tugboats will get the barge to the oilfields.

"I am building something that I never expect to see used," Powell said. "But we're ready in the event."

If an Arctic oil well were to suffer a catastrophic failure like BP's Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010, Superior's containment system could be pressed into service.

Powell said the barge-mounted rig under construction here will be the first of its kind. It will include a huge containment dome that can be dropped down over an undersea well leak, with hoses attached to extract the accumulated oil and gas for transfer to tanker ships or burning off at the site. Remote-controlled submarines would be used to help maneuver the dome into position.

Also on board are living facilities for a crew of 72.

Employment here likely will wind down as the rig is completed, but Powell said he hopes he and his company will get the opportunity to commission a second one. In any event, Powell said his firm expects to bring its floating oilfield servicing equipment to Bellingham in the offseason for maintenance work, providing some added employment for an undetermined number of people.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, toured the work site Wednesday, April 11. Afterwards, Larsen said he appreciated the added jobs, as well as the fact that the project is aimed at environmental protection.

"The government is issuing permits and approving (oil drilling) leases in Alaska," Larsen said. "We better have the technology in place."

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