The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has issued permits allowing Shell to drill the top hole sections of two wells in the Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea. The agency is prohibiting Shell from drilling into hydrocarbon bearing zones until the company has its capping stack on hand, available for deployment within 24 hours if needed. The capping stack, a device that would be placed onto a well head to seal the well should the well's blowout preventer fail during a well loss-of-control incident, is positioned on the icebreaker M/V Fennica.
The Fennica is currently en-route to Portland, Oregon, for a repair to a gash in its hull after hitting an uncharted underwater obstruction near Dutch Harbor. Shell has said that it anticipates the vessel being repaired and transitioned to the Chukchi Sea with the capping stack before either of the company's planned drilling operations reaches the depths where hydrocarbons may be found.
The BSEE permits also prohibit simultaneous drilling operations at both of Shell's planned drilling sites. This limitation arises from a stipulation within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's letter of authorization, allowing the minor, unintended disturbance of walruses and polar bears during Shell's operations. The stipulation requires simultaneous exploration to be spaced at least 15 miles from each other - Shell's well locations are less than 15 miles apart.
- Alan Bailey
See story in the July 26 issue, available online Friday, July 24 at www.PetroleumNews.com