Shell has filed a revised plan for exploration drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the company announced Nov. 6. The plan, which the company says “is required to keep the company’s 2014 exploration options viable” and which apparently details the drilling of multiple Chukchi Sea wells, has gone to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for review. Shell has no near-term plans for Beaufort Sea drilling.
The company has already contracted the use of Transocean’s Polar Pioneer semi-submersible drilling rig to replace the damaged Kulluk floating drilling platform so that, together with the drill ship Noble Discoverer, the company will have two drilling vessels available for use in the Arctic.
However, the company faces some significant challenges if it is to drill in 2014, given the need to permit all of the vessels in the company’s substantial Arctic drilling fleet before the drilling operations can begin. And, presumably, decisions over mobilizing the fleet will need to be taken long before the drilling season starts.
Meantime, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, is in the process of preparing a new set of safety rules for drilling on the Arctic outer continental shelf. BSEE spokesman Nicholas Pardi confirmed to Petroleum News in a Nov. 4 email that, despite the recent government shutdown, the agency is still on target for issuing a draft version of the new rules by the end of the year for public review. Issue of the rules in final form will depend on completion of the subsequent public review period and revision of the rules in the light of public comments.
And environmental organizations are busy lining up their opposition to Shell’s plans.
“The specter of Shell planning to move forward in the Chukchi Sea is the scariest Halloween trick yet,” said Susan Murray, deputy vice president, Pacific, for Oceana. “Instead of continuing to ignore risks and pushing to drill, Shell ought to scrap its plans for the Arctic along with the Kulluk … there is no proven technology that would allow companies to drill safely in Arctic Ocean conditions, and the risks far outweigh any potential benefits.”
“Before Shell starts boasting about its new plans for the drilling in the Arctic Ocean, the company should explain why it couldn’t safely conduct its operations under last year’s plans,” said Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris. “Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is just too risky and no company has figured out how to respond to an oil spill in icy waters.”
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