The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has given Shell final approval to drill into deeper into hydrocarbon-bearing zones at its Burger J prospect in the Chukchi Sea, off Alaska, in the US Arctic.
“After extensive review and under a robust array of safety requirements, BSEE Director Brian Salerno today announced that Shell has received approval of one Application for Permit to Modify (APM) to conduct exploratory drilling activities into potential oil-bearing zones offshore Alaska at one of the wells at the Burger Prospect, Burger J. The company remains limited to the top section of the Burger V well,” BSEE said on 17 August.
Shell had previously only received conditional approval to drilling into the top sections of the Burger J and Burger V wells, back in July, after the Fennica icebreaker, which housed the capping stack necessary for final approval, had to be sent to Portland, Oregon, for repairs from damages sustained while en route to Alaska. The vessel owner, Arctia Offshore, said in July that the Fennica's hull had suffered a damage while traveling through charted waters on the Unalaska Bay area. A leak in one of the ballast tanks was later discovered. The Fennica left Portland, amid protests from Greenpeace activists on 30 July, just as Shell began initial drilling activities at the Burger J prospect.
The Burger prospect is 70mi northwest of the village of Wainwright, Alaska, at about 140ft water depth. With BSEE’s previous conditional approval, Shell was prohibited from conducting simultaneous drilling activity at Burger J and Burger V. Back in July, BSEE said Shell must plug and abandon the top section of the first well before proceeding with any drilling activity at the second well site.
Upon receiving the news of BSEE’s final approval for the Burger J well, Shell told OE: “With modifications to our Application for Permit to Drill (APD) approved, we are now authorized to explore hydrocarbon-bearing zones at our Burger J well site. Drilling began at Burger J on July 30th and crews aboard the Transocean Polar Pioneer continue to make progress.
“We remain committed to operating in a safe, environmentally responsible manner and look forward to evaluating what could potentially become a national energy resource base.”
The decision to allow Shell to drill into hydrocarbon-bearing zones was applauded by industry advocates National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API).
"Shell has stationed safety and support equipment on site and has done everything asked and more, with the approval of federal regulators, to set up for this short drilling season – with no guarantee of success,” said NOIA President Randall Luthi. “Many agree that there is huge potential for oil and natural gas in the Arctic, but the only way to prove such resources exist is to actually explore. It is time to move forward so that Alaskans can benefit from increased economic and energy development off their shores, and the US can reap the rewards of increased energy security.”
API said of the BSEE decision: "This is a good first step. Arctic oil and natural gas represent incredible potential for American energy security, jobs and revenue for the government. Developing these vast resources will help America to expand and protect its role as a global energy superpower."
In May, the US Department of the Interior conditionally approved Shell’s Arctic plans following a record of decision affirming Shell’s Arctic leases from the Chukchi Sea OCS oil and gas lease sale 193 from 2008. Shell has spent US$1 billion preparing for its return to the Arctic this summer, following a two-year hiatus.
Shell’s multi-year exploration plan proposed the drilling of up to six wells within the Burger Prospect. Shell will conduct its operations using the drillship M/V Noble Discoverer and the semisubmersible drilling unit Polar Pioneer, with each vessel providing relief-well capability for the other. The two drilling units and their supporting vessels will depart the Chukchi Sea at the conclusion of each exploration drilling season.