Shell now hopes to use two drill rigs for Chukchi exploration in 2015


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Shell is now planning to bring the TransOcean Ltd. semi-submersible drill rig Polar Pioneer to the Chukchi Sea in 2015 to explore along with the drillship Noble Discoverer. The company had previously planned to have only the Noble Discoverer exploring in the Arctic.

A revised Plan of Exploration was filed Thursday with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that proposes to have the semisubmersible drilling along with the Discoverer, Shell spokeswoman Meg Baldino said.

In a statement, Shell said, “Today we submitted revisions to our previously approved Chukchi Sea exploration plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; this step is necessary to keep our 2015 exploration options viable. The plan details our exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea.”

The new plan supersedes a previous Chukchi Sea exploration plan filed by Shell, Baldino said.

Previously the company planned to have the Polar Pioneer kept on standby at Dutch Harbor. Having both rigs in the Chukchi Sea would allow either to respond faster to each other in an emergency, Baldino said. The Polar Pioneer is designed for Arctic conditions, according to information about the rig on TransOcean’s website. The rig was built in 1985 and has worked off the coast of northern Norway.

“We have not yet made any formal decisions,” Baldine said. “We submitted the revised exploration plan to have options open to us. Our final decision will depend on a lot of things, such as successful permitting and a resolution to litigation,” she said.

Shell’s plans are currently bogged down in a lawsuit brought by Native tribal and environmental groups that argued the Interior Department’s assumption of oil spill risks are unrealistic based on its estimate of what would constitute an economically developable discovery in the Chukchi Sea. BOEM is now revising the assumptions and will publish a draft supplemental environmental impact statement this fall, the agency has said.

Meanwhile, Shell is also waiting on new Arctic OCS drilling rules to be put in place by the Interior Department. A draft set of rules has been developed and submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review but are not yet public, an Interior spokesman said.

Shell’s 2012 drilling program was only partly successful. The company was able to drill one partly-completed exploration well in both the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea, where Shell also holds leases. Shell could only drill “top holes” because its spill recovery barge was never cleared to leave its Washington port and the company was not allowed to drill to oil-bearing depths.

After its Beaufort rig the Kulluk lost its tow and grounded off Kodiak in late 2012, the company did not return to the Arctic in 2013 and 2014 and hopes now to resume drilling in the Chukchi Sea only in 2015, Baldino said.

The Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea remains Shell’s top priority, she said. Under the revised plan filed with BOEM the two rigs would be operating in proximity to each other but Maldino did not have details of how close.

One rig will certainly focus on Burger. Details of other prospects targeted are described in the exploration plan, which would be released by the BOEM, she said.

 

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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