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Vol. 16, No. 11 Week of March 13, 2011
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Shell plans to drill in 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, Alaska, March 8.

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.

2011 plans

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.

In October 2010 Shell said that it would initially target the Beaufort Sea for 2011 drilling because of unresolved appeals against the 2008 Chukchi Sea lease sale in which the company purchased its leases.

Shell’s 2012-13 exploration plans will be based on plans previously submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. However, for its 2012-13 program, the company plans to have two rigs in operation simultaneously, one in the Beaufort Sea and one in the Chukchi Sea. In the unlikely event of a well blowout, the rig not in operation at the out-of-control well would be available as a back-up rig for the drilling of a relief well, Ruddy said.

Relief well feasible

Asked about the practicality of drilling a relief well before the end of the open water season, were a blowout to occur late in the season, Ruddy said that Shell anticipates it taking about 30 days to drill each of its Beaufort and Chukchi seas wells. These wells would not be as deep as the Macondo well involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, she said.

With planned drilling continuing no later than October, relief well drilling could take until December to complete, Ruddy said. And both of the rigs that Shell plans to use are ice capable and would be supported by ice management vessels, thus making it practical to continue relief well drilling into December, after sea ice has formed, said Michael Macrander, Shell’s Alaska lead scientist. In fact, the Kulluk has a track record of successful drilling in sea ice conditions, he said.

No Beaufort discharges

As in its 2011 Beaufort Sea exploration plan, Shell is opting not to discharge drill cuttings into the ocean, other than cuttings from the uppermost parts of its wells, when drilling in the Beaufort Sea in 2012 and 2013, Ruddy said. Cuttings and some other non-toxic waste, such as sanitary waste, that could legally be permitted for discharge into the water will instead be transported out of the region for disposal.

The decision to eliminate discharges into the ocean from drilling in the Beaufort Sea has resulted from a commitment made to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the North Slope Borough, following concerns about the potential impact of drilling discharges on Beaufort Sea bowhead whale migration near the drilling operations, Macrander said. Shell does not anticipate following the same policy for discharges from its Chukchi Sea drilling, he said.

—Alan Bailey

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