Shell readies to begin 2010 exploration drilling program in the Beaufort, Chukchi Seas offshore Alaska

By Phaedra Friend Troy

Shell is mobilizing drilling equipment for its shallow water Chukchi and Beaufort Seas drilling efforts, according to a report from project partner Apex Resources Group.

Shell is continuing with its 2010 Arctic drilling exploration program in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas offshore Alaska, mobilizing non-local equipment and moving vessels into place.

Although the safety of offshore drilling has been called into question with the recent Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling efforts offshore Alaska are very different, contends Shell.

According to Apex, Shell’s Alaska vice president Pete Slaiby is confident in the safety of the company’s planned operations. In contrast to the extreme drilling environment at the deepwater Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, Shell’s Alaska presence is in only 150 feet of water with only about a third of the reservoir pressure. Also, the total measured depth of the Alaskan wells will only reach 8,000 feet, in comparison to the 18,000-foot total measured depth of the GOM well.

Alaskan Exploration Approval

Shell officials are visiting Alaska’s North Slope to meet with locals and discuss how the Alaskan drilling will differ from the deepwater Gulf of Mexico exploration program. In fact, the company has provided extensive information on its website about its Alaskan operations.

The company has confidence that the remaining permits needed to commence the Arctic drilling program in Alaska will be proffered by the time the company needs to move its drilling fleet through the Bering Strait in July.
Just recently, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously rejected an appeal against Shell’s approval to complete its 2010 exploration program in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

However there is some uncertainty whether or not the Chukchi Sea lease sale program will be upheld. Should this occur, Shell is ready to move forward with only its Beaufort Sea drilling campaign.

"If things go badly in the DC Circuit, the Beaufort would clearly still be an option," Apex quotes Shell’s Slaiby as saying.

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