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Key Piece Of Shell's Arctic Drilling Fleet Headed To Portland For Repairs

A damaged icebreaker that's essential to Shell Oil Company's controversial plans to drill in the Arctic this summer is heading to Portland's Vigor Industrial shipyard for repairs.

The company says the vessel was damaged on its way from Alaska's Port of Dutch Harbor to the drill site in the Chukchi Sea, about 70 miles off the coast of Alaska. Shell plans to drill two exploratory oil wells in the area this summer.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the damage to the vessel shouldn't delay the drilling, but opponents say the incident is a red flag for the whole operation, and they're asking the Obama administration to pull the company's permits.

The Fennica icebreaker would help keep icebergs away from the Arctic drilling operation. It is one of two icebreakers in Shell's Arctic drilling fleet. The Fennica also carries key oil spill response equipment, including a capping stack that would fit over a damaged well in an emergency.

Shell plans to bring the vessel to Portland for repairs before it returns to Alaska for the drilling season, Smith said in e-mailed response.

"While we believe interim repairs could be made in Dutch Harbor, our preference is to pursue a conservative course and send it to a shipyard where a permanent fix can be performed," he said. "We do not anticipate any impact on our season as we do not require the vessel until August."

Travis Nichols, an opponent of the drilling operation and spokesman for Greenpeace, said the company is required by law to have an icebreaker at the drill site. The fact that the vessel was damaged before it could reach the drill site is bad sign, he said.

"It's one of many red flags for the operation," he said. "I think the only prudent course of action is for the Obama administration to shut the drilling season down and rescind the lease that the Bush administration gave Shell."

Nichols said even the drilling operation goes safely and according to plan, "it's still a disaster. It's a global disaster to drill for this oil and to burn this oil."

Last month, environmental activists protested the departure of Shell's Arctic drilling rig in Seattle, the launch point for the rig's journey north to the drill site.

Nichols said he would expect a similar resistance from opponents in Portland when the icebreaker comes in for repairs.

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