Your account already exists. Please login first to continue managing your settings.
Arctic drilling started for Shell as the company commenced work on a 2,438-m pilot hole on the Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea. However, sea ice caused work to stop temporarily.
With the threat of regulatory delays and another winter season nipping at its heels, Shell spudded its first well on the seabed of the US Chukchi Sea as the company’s latest Arctic drilling plans push forward on the Burger prospect, about 113 km (70 miles) off the coast of Wainwright, Alaska.
On Sept. 9, Shell commenced preliminary drilling that was deemed allowable by the federal government. Shell is limited to non-oil-bearing zones for activities that include creating a mud line cellar for a blowout preventer as well as drilling and setting the first two strings of casing into shallow zones that don’t bear oil.
But a day later, the company temporarily moved off the well as a precautionary measure to avoid potentially encroaching sea ice. Plans are for the Noble Discoverer to reconnect to anchors and resume drilling once the ice threat passes.
Work includes drilling a 2,438-m (8,000-ft) initial well, which has a top hole of between 396 m (1,300 ft) and 427 m (1,400 ft) deep, said Kayla Macke, a Shell spokeswoman. Drilling of the top part of the well could take about two weeks. However, “every well is different, and we will focus on operating responsibly. Operations will not be rushed.”
Plans include possibly commencing work on the top hole of another well, she said. To date, Shell has spent more than $4.5 billion in preparation for its latest Arctic drilling effort.
The recent milestone marks the first time in more than two decades that a drill bit has reached the Chukchi Sea floor, according to Shell. “Today marks the culmination of Shell’s six-year effort to explore for potentially significant oil and gas reserves, which are believed to lie under Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf,” a news release stated. “In the days to come, drilling will continue in the Chukchi Sea, and we will prepare for drilling to commence in the Beaufort Sea.”
The US Geological Survey estimates about 90 Bbbl of oil, 1,669 Tcf of natural gas, and 44 Bbbl of NGLs may remain undiscovered in the Arctic. The Arctic continental shelves may be the largest unexplored areas for petroleum left in the world, holding about 22% of the world’s undiscovered conventional oil and natural gas resources, according to US Energy Information Administration estimates.
However, before Shell is able to tap into any potentially oil-bearing zones, it must get approval from the federal government. The company must secure certification for its containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, which would carry a containment dome capable of being lowered to a wellhead if a spill occurs. The certification is likely to trigger those final permits, according to Shell. On Sept. 10, testing was underway for the containment barge, which is needed to drill into an oil-bearing zone.
Shell already has had to scale down its Arctic drilling plans, due to delays, to two wells – one each in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The original plan called for drilling up to five wells. The company has until Sept. 24 to drill in the Chukchi and until the end of October for drilling in the Beaufort. More time has been requested.
“We’ll make the most of the time we have in each location,” Macke said. “The Kulluk [drilling unit] is currently positioned in the Beaufort Sea, awaiting the end of the fall whale hunt.”
However, permitting delays aren’t the only issue Shell faces. Environmentalists continue to fight against the drilling program in an effort to protect the Arctic environment’s fragile ecosystem.
Greenpeace activists haven’t slowed in their efforts to stop Arctic drilling. Activists, including actress Lucy Lawless, boarded the Noble Discoverer drillship before it departed the port of Taranaki destined for the Arctic. Not only are offshore Alaska efforts being protested, but also offshore Russian projects. In August, a handful of activists boarded Gazprom’s Arctic oil platform in the Pechora Sea and remained there before being forced to leave when they were hosed with water in freezing temperatures.
In a prepared statement, Greenpeace Deputy Campaigns Director Dan Howells said a global movement is growing to stop Arctic drilling. He called it a defining battle.
Shell sees the situation differently.
“We look forward to continued drilling progress throughout the next several weeks and to adding another chapter to Alaska’s esteemed oil and gas history,” the company said in a statement. “We’re proud to be offshore Alaska, and we’re extremely proud of the preparation we’ve put in place to do it right.”
Contact the author, Velda Addison, at email@example.com.