Rep. Markey Wants to Know Why Shell's Containment Dome Crushed Like a Beer Can in Puget Sound

The Arctic Challenger’s containment dome, crumpled after a field test in Puget Sound.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass), penned a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, looking for answers about a Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) containment dome that "crushed like a beer can" in tests earlier this Fall.

Markey, who is the Ranking Member of the US House Committee on Natural Resources, is referring to a story first broken by Seattle radio station KUOW investigator John Ryan, revealing that in September Shell performed tests on a containment dome that was to be deployed as part of the company's controversial Arctic offshore oil drilling operations.

According to government reports obtained by KUOW, the dome "breached like a whale" and then sank to the bottom of Puget Sound off the coast of Washington State. When the dome was recovered a government official described the dome as "crushed like a beer can."

The containment dome is a key piece of emergency spill equipment that is used to cap an oil well when a pipe burst occurs, like the one we saw in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster. Markey describes the failed test in his letter to Salazar:

"Remotely operated submersible robots became tangled in rigging lines, warning indicators were dismissed as defective, and divers were requested, even though using divers would likely not be possible during an actual disaster in the Arctic. The test was conducted in Puget Sound, far away from the actual Arctic environment."

Markey goes on to ask the question that should be on everyone's mind given this disturbing revelation:

“Shell’s unsuccessful test in Puget Sound raises new questions about the company’s ability to successfully drill offshore in the Arctic and, more generally, about the ability of containment devices to function properly in the harsh Arctic environment. The outcome of the containment dome test, the fact that Shell may have missed warning signals that something was wrong and Shell’s problems using ROVs, which could be required in an Arctic environment, raise troubling questions about whether Shell can drill safely in this harsh and sensitive area.”

You can read the full text of Markey's letter here: Markey Questions Interior on Failed Arctic Spill Containment Test."

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