Shell plans to go back to Arctic drilling in the Chukchi Sea, offshore Alaska, in July next year.
The oil giant last year put its Arctic aspirations on ice after it had encountered several setbacks such as its inability to obtain certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger, on a timely basis; the deployment difficulty of the Arctic Challenger’s containment dome; and serious marine transport issues associated with both of Shell’s two drilling rigs, the Kulluk which went aground off Alaska in December last year after breaking free from tugboats leading it to Seattle for maintenance, and the Noble Discoverer which nearly grounded in Dutch Harbor in July last year.
However, according to the company’s 2014 Integrated Operations Plan For the Chukchi Sea, Shell ensured it was ready to try again. The company plans to deploy the Noble Discoverer drillship for drilling operations at the Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea during the period of July through October, demobilizing from the area by late October into November.
After it had suffered several setbacks with its drilling units last year, Shell in its plan said that the Noble Discoverer, since the end of 2012 operations, has undergone a rigorous maintenance and upgrade program implemented by Noble Drilling with Shell’s involvement:
“Improvements in the scope of work include modifications based on lessons learned during the 2012 season as well as maintenance items to preserve the ship’s operability and reliability in preparation for further work in Alaskan offshore waters. This program has included work to the hull, as well as to major ship systems with a focus on improving safety and environmental performance and operational efficiency.”
The Kulluk drilling unit, which was badly damaged last year in the grounding incident, was not mentioned in the 2014 plan. The company’s Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry recently said: “We will not take the Kulluk back next year. The repair costs may exceed the benefits of doing so.”
The Kulluk will be replaced by the Polar Pioneer, a harsh environment semi-submersible suitable for Chukchi Sea exploration, which will be staged in Dutch Harbor as a secondary relief well drilling unit to the Noble Discoverer in what Shell describes as “the highly unlikely scenario of an exploration well control event.”
There are challenges
The company did admit, however, that the 2014 Arctic drilling plans are not without challenges:
“The planned 2014 operations may encounter many challenges. Vast distances, harsh weather and sea conditions, possible volcanic and earthquake activity, and sparse shore-based infrastructure represent some of the considerable obstacles that must be planned for and accommodated,” Shell said.
On the other side, Shell added that ” the open water season, long daylight periods, shallow water, dedicated oil spill response equipment, ice management vessels, the Shell Ice and Weather Advisory Center (SIWAC) mitigate many of these challenges.”
Not everybody is convinced by the plan.
Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris said: “Before Shell starts boasting about its new plans for the drilling in the Arctic Ocean, the company should explain why it couldn’t safely conduct its operations under last year’s plans. We’ve already watched Shell lose control of two different drill rigs in less than a year, with one of them catching fire and the other running one running aground off the coast of Alaska. The federal government chastised Shell earlier this year that it needed to answer ‘serious questions regarding its ability to operate safely and responsibly in the challenging and unpredictable conditions’ of the Arctic Ocean. We’re still waiting for those answers. Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is just too risky and no company has figured out how to respond to an oil spill in icy waters.”
Offshore Energy Today Staff, December 05, 2013