By Tim Bradner
Alaska Journal of Commerce
Shell’s drillship Noble Discoverer is expected to arrive at its Chukchi exploration drill site late Friday. A second Shell drill vessel, the Kuluk, will be near its Beaufort Sea prospect area Sept. 4, a company official said Thursday.
“We still need some time to fuel the Discoverer and to provide provisions, but we expect to start picking up anchors on Saturday or Sunday,” said Pete Slaiby, Shell’s vice president for Alaska.
Slaiby was referring to anchors for the drillship that were set earlier on the sea bottom at Shell’s “Burger A” drill site, its initial prospect in the Chukchi Sea.
Also, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that the department issued a drilling permit to Shell that would allow the company to begin preparation of the drill site.
That work will include construction of a mud-line cellar for installation of a Blow-Out Preventer, the drilling of a 8.5-inch “pilot hole” to test for shallow gas accumulations, and drilling to the 1,400-foot level with installation of casing.
Salazar said Shell will not be able to drill further to potential hydrocarbon zones until the Arctic Challenger, a specialized spill response barge, completes inspections in a Bellingham, Wash. Shipyard and is on the scene.
Even if Shell can only drill the so-called “top holes” this year, it will consider the season successful. “We got a late start because of ice, but we will have demonstrated a lot of things, mainly that we can work safely,” Slaiby said in a briefing.
Once the barge is on the scene Slaiby said the drillship will have to drill another 6,000 feet, approximately, to reach hydrocarbon zones. Installation of the Blow Out Preventer and drilling to 1,400 feet is expected to take about two weeks. Once the barge is on scene it will take about 7 to 10 days to drill down to the hydrocarbon zone, he said.
Under rules set by the government Shell must stop drilling into hydrocarbon zones on Sept. 24, but well-testing and abandonment work on the well can be done after that, Slaiby said.
The permit issued Thursday is for the Chukchi Sea well only, and no similar permit has been issued yet for the Beaufort Sea well. However, the Kulluk will not begin drilling until after the end of the fall Inupiat subsistence whale hunt in the Beaufort, which has just started, Slaiby said.
The Kulluk will meanwhile wait in a location west of a zone in the Beaufort Sea set aside for whaling activity, he said