Shell gets OK for prep work in Chukchi

The U.S. Department of the Interior gave Shell Oil approval Thursday to do preparation work on an exploration site in the Chukchi Sea. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the permit will allow Shell to excavate a 40-foot “cellar” at the seafloor and then install two strings of casing of tubular steel, to a depth of 1,400 feet or 1,500 feet.

Installation of the casing is necessary to allow a blowout preventer to also be installed.

Shell will not be allowed to drill deeper into potential hydrocarbon-bearing zones until inspections and approvals are complete on the Arctic Challenger, a specialized spill response barge now in a Bellingham, Wash., shipyard.

Salazar said Shell has informed him it may be “four or five more days before the inspections are complete,” he said. It will then take 14 to 18 days for the barge to be moved to the exploration locations in the Arctic.

Salazar said the permit allowing Shell’s preliminary activity is only for the Chukchi Sea and now, for now, for the Beaufort Sea, a second location where Shell hopes to drill.

Meanwhile, two Shell drilling vessels, the drillship Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk, a conical drilling structure, are en route to the Arctic. The Kulluk has passed through the Bering Strait on its way to the Beaufort Sea, Shell has reported. The Discoverer was west of Nome on Wednesday.

08/30/2012 - 8:02am