Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to restart its delayed Arctic drilling campaign has taken a major set forward. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has given its approval to Shell’s revised exploration programme for the Chukchi Sea, offshore Alaska, under the condition that specific environmental requirements are met.
These requirements include Shell obtaining a drilling permit from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and authorisations governed by the Marine Animal Protection Act. In addition, before any drilling is undertaken ‘Biological Opinions’ must be issued under the Endangered Species Act. Shell will have to abide by any conditions made by these Biological Opinions.
Shell’s revised exploration programme covers the whole range of activities it plans in the Chukchi Sea, including timings, well locations, vessel details, safety and environmental information, and details of actions taken to protect workers and the environment.
The multi-year programme proposes drilling six wells in the Burger Prospect, which is located approximately 70 miles from the Alaskan coast, in water depths of around 140 metres. Shell plans to use the semi-submersible drilling rig, Transocean Polar Pioneer, and the Noble Discoverer drillship, to undertake the exploration. The vessels will provide relief-well capacity for each other and will depart the sea at the end of each drilling season.
Shell gave a measured response to the approval, describing it as ‘an important milestone’. However, it also stated that ‘before operations can begin this summer, it’s imperative that the remainder of our permits be practical and delivered in a timely manner.’