Builders of oil-containment dome now need permits

Two companies working on an oil spill containment system at the Bellingham Shipping Terminal will need to apply for stormwater permits from the state Department of Ecology.

Since November of last year, Greenberry Industrial and Superior Energy Services have been assembling and installing the system on the Arctic Challenger barge for Shell Oil Co.’s exploratory drilling project in the Arctic Ocean near Alaska.

The project has been plagued by set backs, including a botched sea test last week that required the barge to be towed back to Bellingham with unspecified damages. Shell has since scrapped its major oil drilling plans for the year, though the company does plan to drill shallow, foundational wells—known as top holes—near underwater oil formations in the Arctic Ocean.

State ecology officials said they determined the project should have had permits when the site was inspected in May, and both companies should have been required to monitor stormwater runoff. But officials allowed the project to continue without permits, since work was supposed to be completed by the end of July—the process to obtain a permit can take up to two months, according to the department.

Stormwater permits protect water quality, according to the ecology department, by requiring permit holders to take industry-recognized steps to prevent pollution, regularly inspect and sample runoff, and report how much pollution is in the runoff leaving their sites. Reporting pollution above allowable limits can result in fines.

Now that both companies plan to enter long-term leasing agreements with the Port of Bellingham for the shipping terminal, the ecology department is giving them until Sept. 28 to apply for permit coverage.

Superior Energy has entered a five-year agreement with the port to use the terminal as a home base for the Arctic Challenger.

Contact Evan Marczynski at or call 360-647-8805. 

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