BOEM conditionally approves Shell's Chukchi Sea exploration plan

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conditionally approved Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc.’s revised exploration plan for its leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska on Dec. 16. Shell and Alaska government officials immediately questioned the necessity of one condition that would shorten the drilling season there.

A Shell Alaska spokesman said the conditional approval was an important step in the company’s effort to start drilling its Chukchi Sea leases—which it acquired in a 2008 sale—in July 2012. The company is still evaluating the approval’s conditions, including the one that potentially limits the drilling season, he said. “We are concerned this unwarranted restriction could severely impact our ability to deliver a complete Chukchi program,” the spokesman said.

BOEM said the condition was designed to mitigate the risk of an end-of-season oil spill by requiring Shell to leave sufficient time to implement cap and containment operations as well as significant clean-up before the onset of sea ice, in the event of a loss of well control. It said Shell must cease drilling into zones capable of flowing liquid hydrocarbons 38 days before the first-date of ice encroachment over the drill site, given current technology and weather forecasting capabilities.

Based on a 5-year analysis of historic weather patterns, BOEM said it anticipates Nov. 1 as the earliest anticipated date of ice encroachment. The 38-day period would also provide a window for the drilling of a relief well, should one be required, BOEM added.

Additional steps

The company still must satisfy those conditions as well as obtain the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s approval of its oil spill response plan and well-specific drilling permits, BOEM said. It said Shell also will have to take measures to increase safety and confirm the availability of response equipment, including a well capping and containment system, and to ensure that Shell takes important steps to avoid conflicts with subsistence activities. It also must also obtain necessary permits from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, BOEM said.

Alaska government officials quickly criticized the provision. “I am deeply concerned that curtailing an already-short drilling season will put the entire project in jeopardy, cost jobs, and ultimately result in more dependence on foreign oil, which serves neither Alaska nor our country,” Gov. Sean Parnell (R) said. “This is yet another example of federal regulatory overreach that may unnecessarily hamper economic development for our state, and reduce our ability to produce more domestic energy.”

US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) suggested that the condition seemed to be more a response to newspaper ads than founded on science. “This arbitrarily curtails an already very short drilling season, unnecessarily putting the project at risk,” she warned.

Alaska’s other US senator, Democrat Mark Begich, called the provision short-sighted and possibly influenced by election year politics. “I am disappointed that the administration has diverted from months of positive progress and thrown this last-minute monkey wrench into Arctic development,” he said. “Alaska has done offshore exploration before, we’ve done it safely, and the technology is better now than it has ever been.”

‘Devil in the details’

Republican Don Young, the state’s at-large US House member, said that while BOEM’s conditional approval might seem positive at first glance, “the devil is in the details.” He said, “What Alaskans and the companies who have invested billions of dollars are looking for is certainty and progress, and unfortunately this ‘conditional’ approval won’t bring much of either. The fact is that Alaskans know how to do this in a safe and responsible way, and to ignore the progress that has been made to increase safety and technology is short-sighted.”

Environmental organizations, meanwhile, condemned BOEM’s conditional approval of Shell’s Chukchi Sea exploration plan as the latest in a series of reckless Obama administration decisions about oil and gas activity in US Arctic Ocean waters.

“BOEM has stuck its head in the sand and rubber stamped Shell’s plan without any thoughtful review or apparent care for our oceans,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana. “This approval makes a mockery of [US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar’s] stated commitments to science, the legal obligation to be prepared for a spill, and the basic idea of government as stewards of public resources. Every commission, committee, and review other than those prepared by BOEM and the oil industry has shown that we are not ready to drill in the Chukchi Sea.”

Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity, stated, “It’s a sure sign that our thirst for oil has clouded our ability to reason when we start thinking it’s a good idea to drill for oil in the harshest environment on earth. Rather than looking for the next risky fossil fuel fix, the Obama administration should be working to give Americans a clean energy future. A decision to drill in the Arctic is a decision to destroy it.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

Related Articles

BLM starts process to consider new Nevada lease nominations

12/19/2014 The US Bureau of Land Management’s Battle Mountain, Nev., field office is seeking public comment on 197 parcels of public land, totaling 415,921 ac...

Mexico uses PSCs in first Round One step

12/19/2014 Mexico is offering production-sharing contracts to companies incorporated in the country for exploration of 14 shallow-water areas in Round One bid...

BASF, Gazprom cancel asset swap

12/19/2014

BASF and OAO Gazprom have agreed not to complete an asset swap that was scheduled for yearend.

AWE pulls out of Otway permit

12/19/2014 AWE Ltd., Sydbey, has decided to pull out of Perth-based junior WHL Energy Ltd.’s offshore Otway Basin permit Vic-P67 after a series of time extens...

Apache awarded Western Australia offshore permit

12/18/2014 A day after reporting its planned divestment of Western Australian and Canadian assets to Woodside Petroleum Ltd., Apache Corp. has been awarded a ...

Thirty-one House Democrats ask Jewell to bar leasing in Arctic Ocean

12/18/2014 US Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and 30 other House Democrats urged US Interior Sec. Sally Jewell to reject the second supplemental environmental i...

Obama makes Alaska’s Bristol Bay off-limits for oil, gas activity

12/17/2014 US President Barack Obama placed Bristol Bay off-limits for future oil and gas leasing, extending a temporary withdrawal he imposed in 2010 that wa...

Cooper to buy 50% of offshore Gippsland Sole gas field

12/17/2014 Cooper Energy Ltd., Adelaide, has bought a 50% interest in the offshore Gippsland Sole dry gas field in retention lease Vic/RL3 as well as 50% of t...

Repsol to acquire Talisman in $13 billion deal

12/16/2014 Spain’s Repsol SA has agreed to acquire all shares of Talisman Energy Inc. of Calgary for $8.3 billion along with assumed debt of $4.7 billion. The...

White Papers

AVEVA NET Accesses and Manages the Digital Asset

Global demand for new process plants, power plants and infrastructure is increasing steadily with the ...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Approach for the Digital Asset

To meet the requirements for leaner project execution and more efficient operations while transferring...
Sponsored by

Diversification - the technology aspects

In tough times, businesses seek to diversify into adjacent markets or to apply their skills and resour...
Sponsored by

Engineering & Design for Lean Construction

Modern marketing rhetoric claims that, in order to cut out expensive costs and reduce risks during the...
Sponsored by

Object Lessons - Why control of engineering design at the object level is essential for efficient project execution

Whatever the task, there is usually only one way to do it right and many more to do it wrong. In the c...
Sponsored by

Plant Design for Lean Construction - at your fingertips

One area which can provide improvements to the adoption of Lean principles is the application of mobil...
Sponsored by

How to Keep Your Mud System Vibrator Hose from Getting Hammered to Death

To prevent the vibrating hoses on your oilfield mud circulation systems from failing, you must examine...
Sponsored by

Duty of Care

Good corporate social responsibility means implementing effective workplace health and safety measures...
Sponsored by

Available Webcasts


On Demand

Optimizing your asset management practices to mitigate the effects of a down market

Thu, Dec 11, 2014

The oil and gas market is in constant flux, and as the price of BOE (Barrel of Oil Equivalent) goes down it is increasingly important to optimize your asset management strategy to stay afloat.  Attend this webinar to learn how developing a solid asset management plan can help your company mitigate costs in any market.

register:WEBCAST


Parylene Conformal Coatings for the Oil & Gas Industry

Thu, Nov 20, 2014

In this concise 30-minute webinar, participants have an opportunity to learn more about how Parylene coatings are applied, their features, and the value they add to devices and components.

register:WEBCAST


Utilizing Predictive Analytics to Optimize Productivity in Oil & Gas Operations

Tue, Nov 18, 2014

Join IBM on Tuesday, November 18 @ 1pm CST to explore how Predictive Analytics can help your organization maximize productivity, operational performance & associated processes to drive enterprise wide productivity and profitability.

register:WEBCAST


US HYDROCARBON EXPORTS Part 3 — LNG

Fri, Nov 14, 2014

US LNG Exports, the third in a trilogy of webcasts focusing on the broad topic of US Hydrocarbon Exports.

A discussion of the problems and potential for the export of US-produced liquefied natural gas.

These and other topics will be discussed, with the latest thoughts on U.S. LNG export policy.

register:WEBCAST


Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected