Shell shifting attention to pipeline access through NPR-A


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U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, right, talks to Shell Oil drilling supervisor Eric Whatley, left, as they stand on the arctic oil drilling rig “Kulluk,” during a tour May 25 as it undergoes extensive work at Vigor Shipyards in Seattle. Shell Oil hopes to use the rig to tap vast oil reserves below the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north coast.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

With its Arctic offshore drilling likely to actually happen this summer, Shell is now shifting attention to planning and technical work for a 400-mile pipeline across the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

“We see this as a real challenge, with a lot of stream and river crossings and wetlands, and a need to route the pipeline so that small fields that are likely to be discovered in the NPR–A can be developed,” Shell vice president Pete Slaiby told a business group in Anchorage June 8.

Slaiby spoke to the Anchorage chapter of the Builders Owners and Managers Association at its monthly meeting. Shell is mobilizing across a broad range of scientific disciplines.

“This will be the largest and most complex environmental impact statement ever,” he said.

The company is also concerned with new restrictions that could be put in place on a pipeline corridor by the U.S. Department of the Interior in proposed management plans for the petroleum reserve.

Meanwhile, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said major elements of Shell’s drilling fleet are set to sail from a Seattle shipyard. Final inspections on two drilling vessels, the drillship Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk, a conical, mobile drilling structure, were under way on June 10.

The company is now watching ice conditions in the Arctic, which are unusually heavy. Slaiby said Shell may be delayed in getting its ships into position in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea, but any delays would probably be a matter of two weeks or so.

The Kulluk will be drilling in the Beaufort Sea on Shell’s leases roughly north of the Point Thomson area east of Prudhoe Bay. Two wells are planned there. In the Chukchi Sea the Noble Discoverer was to have drilled three wells but Slaiby said seasonal restrictions may limit the drilling to two wells drilled into the potential hydrocarbon-bearing zones.

Shell will still be able to start drilling on other wells, however, giving it a jump-start on 2013 drilling, Slaiby said.

Smith said the company’s focus for this year on its pipeline work is on geotechnical work to determine the best place for a pipeline to come ashore, as well as archeological work.

“The archeological work is very important because most of the early communities were on the coast, and some of these are very old,” Smith said.

Shell has a number of scientific studies under way this year in the NPR-A.

“These include cultural resource surveys, designed to assess current conditions of sites important to residents of the North Slope,” Smith said.

There are also ecological surveys including vegetation surveys, bird surveys, and coastal fish studies.

“This work that will be used to improve our understanding of the Arctic ecosystem and the interrelationship between habitat and wildlife. Hydrology surveys at numerous lakes and rivers as well as coastline sites will involve a wide variety of equipment like time-lapse cameras, acoustic doppler current profilers, and small remote controlled boats to obtain important information on river discharges and coastal erosion,” Smith said.

Shell will assess several options for a pipeline route including a more northern route that will cross areas with potential for oil and gas discoveries as well as a more southerly route.

“No matter which route we take we come in contact with a lot of streams and rivers,” Smith said.

Slaiby said a related issue is whether an all-year road will be built along the pipeline and across the NPR–A. There is support for a road from some coastal villages, he said.

Shell is concerned, however, that land management plans for the petroleum reserve now being developed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manages the NPR-A, could make getting a pipeline corridor difficult or impossible.

One alternative plan being considered by BLM that is heavily supported by environmental groups “would essentially prohibit development of a pipeline to transfer hydrocarbons to TAPS,” Shell told the BLM in written comments.

Shell also said the “purpose and need” section of the environmental impact statement for the management plans mentions the need to provide for the transportation of oil and gas from the Chukchi Sea to TAPS, “it provides no description of analysis of such an event,” the company said in its comments.

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