March 28, 2012 --- Vol. 18, No. 22March 2012

BSEE approves Shell’s Beaufort Sea oil spill response plan

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, has approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for the company’s planned exploratory drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea.

“We have conducted an exhaustive review of Shell’s response plan for the Beaufort Sea,” said BSEE Director James Watson in announcing the response plan approval today. “Our focus moving forward will be to hold Shell accountable and to follow-up with exercises, reviews and inspections to ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready.”

In February the agency approved a similar spill response plan for Shell’s planned exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea. The company wants to drill up to two wells in the Beaufort Sea and up to three wells in the Chukchi Sea during this year’s summer and fall open water season.

“Approval of Shell’s Beaufort Sea Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP), on the heels of the recent approval of our Chukchi Sea oil spill response plan, is another major milestone achieved,” Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told Petroleum News today in an email. “It further reinforces that Shell’s approach to Arctic exploration is aligned with the high standards the Department of Interior expects from an offshore leader and adds to our confidence that drilling will finally commence in the shallow waters off Alaska this summer.”

Shell is assembling a large spill response fleet, to support its drilling operations, with on-site oil spill response vessels and a new well capping and containment system for emergency use.

However, the company still needs to obtain well-specific drilling permits from BSEE before it can commence drilling. And the company faces opposition to its drilling plans from environmental organizations and some Native groups who are concerned about the risk of marine pollution from an oil spill. As pre-emptive action against possible last-minute litigation against the approval of its Chukchi Sea spill response plan, Shell has asked the federal District Court in Alaska to verify that BSEE had properly approved the Chukchi Sea plan.

Shell maintains that its contingency arrangements are adequate to deal with any well control issue that might arise.

“We maintain that the unprecedented amount of time, technology and resources we have dedicated to preparing for an extremely unlikely worst-case scenario makes Shell’s oil spill response plan second to none in the world,” Smith said. “That plan includes the assembly of a 24/7 on-site, near shore and onshore Arctic-class oil spill response fleet, collaboration with the U.S. Coast Guard and a newly engineered Arctic capping system.”

—Alan Bailey

See story in April 1 issue, available online Friday, March 30 at 11 a.m. at

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