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First vessel in Shell Arctic drilling fleet arrives in Alaska

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First vessel in Shell Arctic drilling fleet arrives in Alaska

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 21.27.36Abby Hancock, Reporter, [email protected]: 10 June 2015

ANCHORAGE — The first rig that is part of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling fleet that will be used to explore Alaska waters for oil and gas reserves this summer arrived Wednesday in Dutch Harbor.

The Arctic Challenger, an oil spill containment barge that is one of at least 25 support vessels bound for the Chukchi Sea, is in the Aleutian community and will be followed by the other vessels in the coming weeks, Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino said.

While the company is still waiting for several permits before it can explore for oil, the U.S. Coast Guard is preparing for increased maritime traffic in the region.

A crew of about 20 additional Coast Guard personnel will spend a month in Unalaska, beginning this weekend. At the end of May, the Coast Guard sent two, 25-foot response vessels to Dutch Harbor, which will be used to patrol the waters and enforce safety zones around Shell’s fleet.

“With the potential for protest activity, we as the Coast Guard are going to ensure that all mariners are maintaining safety on the water,” said Lt. Aaron Renschler, chief of enforcement for the Coast Guard. “As small vessels can try to impede on large vessels’ movements and vice versa, it becomes a very dangerous situation.”

For the Port of Dutch Harbor, the increased activity should be manageable, said port director Peggy McLaughlin. She said some of Shell’s vessels will be stopping through the port, but mainly for overflow purposes, as Shell will primarily be using private facilities.

She said activity at the port should be comparable to what Dutch Harbor experienced during Shell’s failed drilling season three years ago.

“We know what we dealt with in 2012 so we feel like we got a pretty good handle on what to expect with some even more efficiencies planned into this year’s drilling season,” said McLaughlin.

The company’s drilling plans have been constantly met with opposition.

Lois Epstein, executive director of the Wilderness Society, said the increase in Coast Guard presence in Unalaska is one example of how the federal government is using resources to facilitate drilling, costing taxpayers a lot of money.

According to Shell, the fleet of support vessels will include supply vessels, tugs and oil spill response assets.

Shell is awaiting approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

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