Shell’s arrival in the Chukchi Sea came with limitations from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) that allows the supermajor to begin drilling, but not into oil-bearing zones just yet.
The Noble Discoverer. From Noble.
Since it is necessary under BSEE rules to have a capping stack on hand and deployable within 24 hours, Shell has only received conditional approval for two applications for permits to drill (APD) to conduct limited exploratory drilling activities that consist of only the top sections of wells, and prohibits the drilling into oil-bearing zones off Alaska.
Shell’s capping stack is still staged on the Fennica icebreaker vessel, which is currently en route to Oregon for repairs from damages that occurred in a 3 July incident while on its way to Alaska to begin work on Shell’s US$1 billion Arctic drilling program.
If and when the Fennica is capable of being deployed in the Chukchi Sea and Shell is able to satisfy the capping stack requirement, the company may submit an application for permit to modify the APDs and request to have this restriction reconsidered, BSEE said.
Under BSEE’s limitations, Shell is now able to proceed with drilling the top sections of two wells at the Burger Prospect, Burger J and V, located 70mi northwest of the village of Wainwright at about 140ft water depth.
Although Burger J and V are located about 15mi apart, Shell is prohibited from conducting simultaneous drilling activity at the two wells. According to BSEE Shell must plug and abandon the top section of the first well before proceeding with any drilling activity at the second well site.
In addition, the APD also requires Shell to maintain a minimum spacing of 15mi between active drill rigs during exploration activities to avoid significant effects on walruses in the region, which were established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The company is also required to have trained wildlife observers on all drilling units and support vessels to minimize impacts to protected species.
“Without question, activities conducted offshore Alaska must be held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards,” said BSEE Director Brian Salerno. “Without the required well control system in place, Shell will not be allowed to drill into oil-bearing zones. As Shell conducts exploratory activities, we will be monitoring their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship.”
Earlier this month, BSEE inspectors reviewed drilling equipment, assessed overall readiness, and tested key safety devices onboard two of Shell’s drilling rigs and ice breaker vessel it's using for its Arctic drilling program, the Noble Discoverer, Polar Pioneer and the Fennica.