The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has conditionally approved Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc.’s revised multi-year exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea, offshore Alaska.
The exploration plan describes all exploration activities planned by Shell, including the timing of these activities, information concerning drilling rigs, the location of each planned well, and actions to be taken to meet important safety and environmental standards and to protect workers, resources, wildlife and access to subsistence use areas, BOEM has explained.
“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”
“Shell’s revised EP proposes the drilling of up to six wells within the Burger Prospect”
Among the conditions of approval is the requirement that Shell obtain all necessary permits from other state and federal agencies, including permits to drill from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and appropriate authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Another condition of approval prevents Shell from starting drilling operations until all Biological Opinions under the Endangered Species Act have been issued and requires all operations under the plan comply with the terms and conditions included in those Biological Opinions.
Shell’s revised EP proposes the drilling of up to six wells within the Burger Prospect, located in approximately 140 feet of water about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright. Shell will conduct its operations using the drillship M/V Noble Discoverer and the semi-submersible drilling unit Transocean Polar Pioneer, with each vessel providing relief-well capability for the other. The two drilling units and their supporting vessels will depart the Chukchi Sea at the conclusion of each exploration drilling season.
Responding to this conditional approval, Shell said: “The approval of our Revised Chukchi Sea Exploration Plan is an important milestone and signals the confidence that regulators have in our plan.
“However, before operations can begin this summer, it’s imperative that the remainder of our permits be practical and delivered in a timely manner. In the meantime, we will continue to test and prepare our contractors, assets and contingency plans against the high bar that stakeholders and regulators expect of an Arctic operator.”
Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski has welcomed the approval saying
“Approval of Shell’s exploration plan for Alaska’s Chukchi Sea marks another important step toward the United States assuming a leadership role in the Arctic. With an estimated 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and gas resources and active exploration by countries like Russia, it’s critical that we move forward as a nation and set the standard for responsible development in the Arctic.
“Interior’s approval of the exploration permit is a key step, but more needs to be done in the coming weeks to ensure that Shell’s exploration program proceeds this summer. There is a total of seven permits that Shell must receive before it can resume drilling. Continued collaboration by the responsible federal agencies to ensure those outstanding permits are not saddled with unworkable conditions will be critical. With this latest milestone, I am cautiously optimistic and stand ready to continue working with the agencies to ensure exploration is conducted safely for the maximum benefit of Alaskans and our nation.”
What about environment?
However, environmentalists think the move is haste, risky and unnecessary one.
“This decision places big oil before people, putting the Arctic’s iconic wildlife and the health of our planet on the line,” said Erik Grafe, Earthjustice staff attorney. “The agency should not be approving such threatening plans based on a rushed and incomplete environmental and safety review. Ultimately, Arctic Ocean drilling is far too risky and undermines the administration’s efforts to address climate change and transition to a clean energy future. These fossil fuels need to remain in the ground.”
Offshore Energy Today Staff