Shell submits revisions to its 2015 Chukchi Sea exploration plan

Shell Offshore Inc. submitted revisions to its previously approved Chukchi Sea exploration plan on Aug. 28, a spokesman for the company confirmed. The step was necessary to preserve the option to drill its Chukchi Sea leases in 2015, but should not be seen as a final decision to drill next summer, he told OGJ in an Aug. 29 e-mail.

“If we drill in 2015, the program will consist of two drilling rigs working simultaneously at Shell’s Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea—the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer [owned by Transocean],” the Anchorage-based spokesman said. “In addition to a new rig, we have fortified our fleet with more anchor handlers, new tugs, and additional offshore supply vessels. We’ve also added an extra helicopter to the rotation.”

A spokesman for the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management separately confirmed that the Department of the Interior agency received Shell’s revisions and would begin an informal review, but would not formally process them until it addresses deficiencies the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals identified in a late January decision involving the 2007 Chukchi Sea lease sale’s final environmental impact statement (OGJ Online, Feb. 3, 2014).

To address the court’s remand, BOEM is preparing a supplemental EIS, the agency’s spokesman told OGJ in an Aug. 29 e-mail. “Consistent with the schedule filed with the court, BOEM is working to release a draft supplemental EIS in October 2014, a final supplemental EIS in early February 2015, and a record of decision in March 2015,” he said.

If the ROD affirms the sale of the Chukchi Sea parcels Shell proposes exploring, BOEM would then begin its official review of the revised 2015 plan which would include an environmental review and opportunities for public comments, he said.

Shell’s spokesman said the revised program places more emphasis on integrated planning and additional marine protocols. “It also means refocused contractor management and better organizational alignment,” he noted.

“We’re taking a methodical approach in the months ahead and we need to see progress on a number of fronts—including successful resolution to the supplemental EIS BOEM is working on now,” the Shell spokesman said. “It also requires receiving all of the necessary permits. And, of course, we have to have total confidence we can execute a program safely.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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