March 09, 2011 --- Vol. 17, No. 21March 2011

Shell plans to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2012-13

Shell plans to drill exploration wells in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the 2012 and 2013 summer open water seasons. The company plans to use the Noble Discoverer drillship to drill up to four wells per drilling season in the Chukchi and to use the Kulluk floating drilling platform to drill up to two wells per season in the Beaufort, Pauline Ruddy, Shell regulatory affairs team lead, told the National Marine Fisheries Service Arctic Open-water Meeting in Anchorage yesterday.

The company plans to upgrade the Kulluk with improved emissions technology to meet clean air requirements, Ruddy said. Shell has previously made similar upgrades to the Noble Discoverer.

Ruddy said that the Chukchi Sea drilling will target the Burger prospect, a 25-mile-diameter structure that is known to hold a major natural gas pool some 80 miles offshore the western end of Alaska’s North Slope.

Shell has already deferred plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea in 2011, following the remand of its Beaufort Sea air quality permit to the Environmental Protection Agency by the Environmental Appeals Board, after an appeal to the board over EPA approval of the permit. The company has also decided not to conduct any new seismic surveying in the Alaska Arctic OCS in 2011, although the company will continue its offshore environmental monitoring and research programs, Ruddy said.

State sues over critical habitat designation

The State of Alaska filed suit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its designation of 187,157 square miles of critical habitat for the polar bear.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association filed suit March 1 over the designation and a coalition of Alaska Native groups have also given the required 60-day notice that they intend to sue over the recovery plan for polar bears.

The state gave the required notice of its intent to file suit on Dec. 21.

The state is challenging the decision to list the bears as threatened in a separate suit.

“We already have a comprehensive slate of state laws, the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and international agreements that provide strong conservation measures for polar bears,” Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement. “The additional regulations, consultations, and likely litigation that would be triggered by this habitat designation would simply delay jobs, and increase the costs of, or even prevent, resource development projects that are crucial for the state,” the governor said: “All this with no material improvement in polar bear habitat.”

See stories in March 13 issue, available online by 11 a.m. Friday, March 11, at

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