BSEE issues Shell permit for limited Beaufort Sea activities

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued Shell Offshore Co. a permit for limited activities on its Beaufort Sea leases nearly a week after the company announced it was scaling back its 2012 Alaskan offshore drilling plans to not penetrate oil-bearing zones (OGJ Online, Sept. 17, 2012).

Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced on Sept. 17 that its subsidiary was making this move after its Arctic offshore crude oil spill containment dome was damaged 3 days earlier during a final test in the Chukchi Sea, where the company also holds federal leases.

BSEE said its Sept. 20 action follows its Aug. 30 authorization for Shell to conduct similar preparatory activities there in anticipation of potential development activities.

“BSEE continues to closely monitor Shell’s ongoing approved preparatory drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea, and today’s approval of limited work in the Beaufort Sea must also meet the same rigorous safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards,” said James A. Watson, the US Department of the Interior agency’s director.

Activities authorized under the new permit include creation of a mudline cellar, a safety feature which ensures that the blowout preventer is protected below the sea floor, and drilling and setting of the first two casing strings into shallow zones which do not contain crude, according to BSEE.

It said Shell may not begin these operations in the Beaufort Sea until the subsistence whaling season there has ended and the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has given its approval.

Environmental organizations criticized BSEE’s action. “Given Shell’s recent record in the Arctic, it makes no sense for [BSEE] to continue to grant them concessions in our nation’s Arctic Ocean,” Alaska Wilderness League Executive Director Cindy Shogan said.

“‘Preparatory activities’ are still drilling, and the [Obama] administration seems to be bending over backward to allow Shell to go forward, despite its poor performance,” she maintained.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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