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Vol. 11, No. 11 Week of March 12, 2006
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Going for the glory

Shell excavating ‘well cellars’ in Beaufort in August; four ice vessels coming

Kay Cashman

Petroleum News

Shell is planning to excavate “well cellars” on the floor of the Beaufort Sea outer continental shelf offshore Alaska this coming summer to get a jump on the 2007 drilling season, a state official told Petroleum News March 9.

Also known as glory holes in offshore situations, the purpose of the cellars is to protect well equipment, such as blowout preventers, from ice scouring, said Bill Hutmacher, industry preparedness manager for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Four Shell officials and two representatives from ASRC Energy Services, under contract with Shell, were present at a March 9 meeting with Hutmacher, which was led by Kent Satterlee, Shell’s regulatory development manager, and Tommy Hutto, Shell’s emergency response coordinator.

Although the actual permitting will be handled by the U.S. Minerals Management Service which has jurisdiction over the OCS, the state will be making a consistency determination to be sure that Shell’s exploration and spill plans are “consistent with the laws and regulations of the state … under the Alaska Coastal Management Program,” Hutmacher said.

Open water drilling only, four ice vessels

Shell plans to drill only in open water seasons – “in the summer and shoulder season, fall, with 2006” excavations starting in August, he said.

The company has acquired one drillship, the Kullu (see part one of this article in PN’s March 5 issue), but Shell officials told him they will also need a second drilling vessel as back up for the Kullu, Hutmacher said.

“Exploration drilling will start in July 2007 through 2009. They said they would be bringing in a fleet of vessels for ice management, including two Russian ice breakers and two Finish anchor handling vessels,” he said.

Even though drilling will be primarily in open water, by fall new ice will start to form and chunks of pack ice are present all through the summer in the Beaufort.

Shell officials said most of their Beaufort OCS leases “off Prudhoe and Kaktovik” were in 100 feet of water.

They did not discuss the number or depth of the well cellars with Hutmacher, but a PN source said they would likely be 30 to 40 feet into the seafloor, protecting “wellheads and Christmas tree equipment from ice keels. …”

“First year ice, called fast ice, won’t hurt anything. Shore-fast ice forms in place. It’s attached to the coastline or large floes. But the permanent pack ice, which is multi-year ice, often sticks out at the bottom and the top. Those are called ice keels. When they drill a glory hole to protect well equipment from these keels, they stick a steel culvert in it to keep the hole from falling back on itself.”

Glory holes have been drilled in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas; they are also used in “Iceberg Alley” off Newfoundland (see diagram this page).

Development funding 2008-09

In its permit application to the North Slope Borough to do geotechnical shallow boring starting this month in state waters in the Point Thomson area, Shell referred to potential pipeline routes from its OCS Kaktovik prospect leases (formerly called Hammerhead prospect) to shore in the Point Thomson unit, saying the work was being done “in support of proposed preliminary development.”

Shell officials told Hutmacher a funding decision to develop Kaktovik, which needs further evaluation, was expected in 2008 or 2009.

Pleased with Shell’s efforts

Hutmacher said he was “very pleased” with Shell’s apparent commitment to environmental, cultural and safety concerns.

“They seem absolutely … committed to safety, to using the best available technology, the best management practices, and they’re very committed to understanding and dealing with stakeholder concerns,” he said.

“They’ve committed to working with us (DEC), to putting a significant amount of time in pre-application meetings, which is very good,” Hutmacher said.

“They had just come back from Barrow to meet with stakeholders there. … They’ve met with Alaska Clean Seas, recognizing they may have to beef up ACS capabilities in open water. They’re looking at a number of different response techniques and oil spill prevention measures.”

And, he said, company officials were planning further meetings with the North Slope Borough and residents of North Slope communities such as Nuiqsut and Kaktovik.

Kaktovik, MMS sign MOU

On a separate, but related, front, the Native Village of Kaktovik and MMS said March 7 that they have signed a memorandum of understanding outlining how the federal and tribal governments will work together to ensure that the Inupiat Eskimo village is consulted whenever OCS activities may occur near the village or may potentially impact their traditional use of the area’s natural resources.

“MMS is aware how important subsistence is to the residents of Kaktovik and other villages on the North Slope,” said MMS Alaska Regional Director John Goll. “This agreement, developed jointly with the Native Village, ensures that the process used by MMS and NV Kaktovik in working together on OCS issues will be conducted in a culturally sensitive manner respectful of tribal sovereignty.”

Kaktovik residents will be notified early of any MMS activities that may have “a direct, substantial effect on the village” and tribal leaders will be consulted “throughout the decision-making process,” MMS said.

Most of Kaktovik’s 284 residents rely on a subsistence lifestyle that includes hunting caribou and bowhead whales.

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