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BSEE Outlines Extent of Shell's Alaska Drilling

Shell has received approval of one Application for Permit to Modify to conduct exploratory drilling activities into potential oil-bearing zones offshore Alaska at one well, Brian Salerno, director of the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, announced Aug. 17. BSEE said the company remains limited to the top section of the Burger V well.

Shell submitted the application Aug. 6 to modify the Burger J Application for Permit to Drill, which restricted Shell from drilling into oil-bearing zones because a capping stack was not on hand and deployable within 24 hours, as required by BSEE. But the capping stack is now in the region and capable of being deployed within 24 hours, according to BSEE.

"Activities conducted offshore Alaska are being held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards," Salerno said. "Now that the required well control system is in place and can be deployed, Shell will be allowed to explore into oil-bearing zones for Burger J. We will continue to monitor their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship."

Shell is still prohibited from simultaneous drilling at Burger J and V. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Letter of Authorization issued June 30 requires Shell to maintain a minimum spacing of 15 miles between active drill rigs during exploration activities to avoid significant effects on walruses in the region. Shell also must have trained wildlife observers on all drilling units and support vessels.

"To ensure compliance with this and other conditions, BSEE safety inspectors have been present on the drilling units Noble Discoverer and Transocean Polar Pioneer 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide continuous oversight and monitoring of all approved activities," according to BSEE. "The inspectors are authorized to take immediate action to ensure compliance and safety, including cessation of all drilling activities, if necessary. BSEE experts have been engaged in thorough inspections of both drilling units and Shell's response equipment."

The Burger Prospect is located in about 140 feet of water 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright, Alaska.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on May 11, 2015, gave conditional approval to Shell’s Exploration Plan, which includes these safety requirements:

  • All phases of an offshore Arctic program – preparations, drilling, maritime and emergency response operations – must be integrated and subject to strong operator management and government oversight, as detailed in Shell's Integrated Operations Plan.
  • A shortened drilling season to allow time for open-water emergency response and relief rig operations late in the drilling season, before projected ice encroachment.
  • A capping stack must be pre-staged and available for use within 24 hours.
  • A tested subsea containment system must be deployable within eight days.
  • Shell has the capability to drill a same season relief well.
  • A robust suite of measures is in place to avoid and minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals and their habitat, impacts to Native subsistence activities, and other environmental impacts.
  • Drilling units and their supporting vessels must depart the Chukchi Sea at the conclusion of each exploration drilling season.
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