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September 10, 2012 --- Vol. 18, No. 70September 2012

Sea ice causes suspension of Shell drilling

Less than two days after the start of drilling in the Chukchi Sea, Shell has had to suspend the drilling operation at its Burger prospect because of the proximity of an ice floe, approximately 12 miles by 30 miles in size. The company is moving its drillship, the Noble Discoverer, and its attendant fleet away from the drilling site and anticipates an interruption of about two days in the drilling, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told Petroleum News by email today.

“As a precautionary measure and in accordance with our approved Chukchi Sea ice management plan, Shell has made the decision to temporarily move off the Burger-A well to avoid potentially encroaching sea ice,” Smith said. “Once the ice moves on, the Noble Discoverer will re-connect to anchors and continue drilling.”

Smith said that Shell uses a combination of satellite images, radar and on-site reconnaissance to monitor sea-ice movements, and that the ability to temporarily relocate the drilling equipment is one of the requirements for working in regions where sea ice can be present.

“It’s fair to say we have one of the most comprehensive pictures of Arctic sea ice movement in the world at this time,” Smith said.

The Wilderness Society has issued a press release saying that this latest twist in the saga of Shell’s Arctic offshore drilling program highlights the extreme challenges of operating in Alaska’s Arctic, with the size of the ice floe raising questions over the possibility of resuming the drilling this summer. Lois Epstein, the society’s Arctic program director, said that the situation shows that sea ice presents a problem for drilling in the Chukchi, even in the summer.

“Chukchi Sea oil likely will be among the most expensive oil in the world to produce and transport to markets, Epstein said. “Today’s ice conditions illustrate the difficulties Shell and others are likely to face for decades to come.”

—Alan Bailey

See story in Sept. 16 issue, available online on Friday, Sept. 14 at 11 a.m. at www.PetroleumNews.com

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