Shell to revamp Chukchi plan after FWS limits drilling

Photo/Jim Paulin/For the Journal

Shell has received one of its final federal permits for 2015 summer exploration in the Chukchi Sea, but with a twist.

A Letter of Authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dealing with walruses and polar bears will require drilling vessels to be 15 miles apart if drilling simultaneously.

Shell’s initial prospects it hopes to drill first, “Burger V” and Burger “J” are closer than that. The company says it’s too early how the restriction will affect the summer operation.

“We still plan to pursue the program outlined in our conditionally approved Exploration Plan. How we go about it may have to be modified based on the conditions outline in the Letter of Authorization, but we plan to make the most out of the time we have” Shell spokesman Luke Miller said.

“Our goal is to safely accomplish as much work as we can before the end of the open water season,” he said.

Shell may have options in revising its drilling plan. The plan is to use both the semi-submersible Polar Pioneer and drillship Noble Discoverer in drilling prospects around the “Burger” discovery made by Shell in the early 1990s.

There are other ways work can be performed within the restrictions. For example, a well can be partly drilled but stopped short of penetrating a potential oil-bearing zone, a procedure Shell used in 2012.

The two initial targets for 2015 are different than the partly-drilled “Burger A” well drilled by Shell in 2012, however.

Meanwhile, vessels in Shell’s Arctic fleet are continuing to gather at Dutch Harbor, the Aleutians port being used as a staging ground. The Polar Pioneer and Arctic Challenger, a spill containment barge, are at Dutch Harbor along with several other vessels in the fleet.

The second drill vessel that will be used, the Noble Discoverer, has left the Port of Everett, in Wash., and is now en route to Dutch Harbor, Miller said. This means all of Shell’s vessels are out of the Pacific Northwest, where some Seattle residents protested against the company’s Arctic plan.

Some vessels will begin moving north toward the Arctic soon and one of both of the drill vessels may be moving within a couple of weeks. The plan is to have the fleet in the Arctic by late July or early August so that drilling can begin as soon as conditions allow.

11/20/2016 - 4:08pm