The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has grated conditional approval to Royal Dutch Shell PLC of two applications for permits to drill (APD) to conduct limited exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska.
Specifically, BSEE said, the APDs limit Shell to drill only the top sections of wells and prohibit the operator from drilling into any oil-bearing zones until a capping stack is on hand and deployable within 24 hr.
Currently, Shell’s capping stack is staged on the M/V Fennica icebreaker vessel, which is en route to Portland, Ore., for repairs. “If and when the vessel M/V Fennica is capable of being deployed in the Chukchi Sea and Shell is able to satisfy the capping stack requirement,” BSEE said, “the company may submit an application for permit to modify the APDs and request to have this restriction reconsidered.”
In addition to restricting Shell’s ability to work in oil-bearing zones, the APDs also define limitations related to marine mammal protection consistent with requirements established by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Consistent with regulatory requirements, an FWS letter of authorization (LOA) issued on June 30 requires Shell to maintain a minimum spacing of 15 miles between active drilling rigs during exploration activities to avoid significant effects on walruses in the region.
Shell may proceed with drilling the top sections of two wells at the Burger Prospect—Burger J and V—as described in its exploration plan. The prospects lie less than 15 miles apart. As such, Shell is prohibited from conducting simultaneous drilling activity at these wells. Specifically, BSEE said, Shell must plug the top section of the first well before proceeding with drilling at the second well site.
Under the LOA, Shell also is required to have trained wildlife observers on all drilling units and support vessels to minimize impacts to protected species, BSEE said. Shell also must stay within explicitly outlined vessel operating speeds and report daily regarding all vessel transits, the agency said.
“In addition to defining the specific limitations described above, BSEE’s review of the APDs also included thorough analysis of information submitted by Shell—including well casing design, equipment design, testing procedures, safety protocol, third-party certifications of key equipment, and rig information—for technical adequacy, safety, and environmental compliance,” BSEE said.
The Burger prospect lies in 140 ft of water, 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright.