Shell puts Arctic drilling off Alaska on pause

Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced it will “pause” its exploration drilling activity for 2013 in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas to prepare equipment and plans for a resumption of activity at a later stage.

“We’ve made progress in Alaska, but this is a long-term program that we are pursuing in a safe and measured way,” said Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas. “Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people.”

Shell continues to use its extensive experience in Arctic and sub-Arctic environments to prepare for safe activities in Alaska, the company said Feb. 27.

“Alaska remains an area with high potential for Shell over the long term, and the company is committed to drill there again in the future,” the company said. “If exploration proves successful, resources there would take years to develop.”

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) said she has been a strong supporter of Shell’s drilling off Alaska.

“But I have always said that it must be done to the highest safety standards. Shell’s decision to postpone this summer’s exploratory drilling program shows that it shares that commitment to safety,” she said. “This pause…is necessary for Shell to repair its ships and make the necessary updates to its exploration plans that will ensure a safe return to exploration soon,” Murkowski said.

Shell completed top-hole drilling on two wells in 2012 in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, marking the industry’s return to offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic after more than a decade. This drilling was completed safely without serious injuries or environmental impact.

But upon completion of the 2012 drilling season, the Kulluk conical drilling unit was driven aground by violent weather while under tow. The Kulluk, while en route to Seattle, was grounded Dec. 31, 2012, on the southeastern shore of Alaska’s uninhabited Sitkalidak Island.

After weather delays, the drilling unit was towed Jan. 7 to a safe harbor about 30 miles from where it ran aground (OGJ Online, Jan. 7, 2013).

Shell has since decided to move the Noble Discoverer drillship and the Kulluk to Asia for additional inspections and repairs.

The Discoverer's operator, Noble Corp., and Shell have decided to dry tow the Discoverer from Seward, Alas., to a shipyard in South Korea (OGJ Online, Feb. 13, 2012).

In December 2012, Noble said it was working to fix deficiencies and maintenance issues raised by the US Coast Guard during an inspection of the drillship following a drilling season offshore Alaska (OGJ Online, Dec. 27, 2012).

The US Environmental Protection Agency said the Kulluk and the Noble Discoverer drillship violated numerous conditions of air-quality permits while drilling off Alaska last year (OGJ Online, Jan. 11, 2012).

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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