AUGUST 7, 2015—Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) are keeping a sharp eye on Shell’s “top-hole” drilling operations being conducted off of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea. The inspectors are there to ensure compliance with federal regulations and safety standards. As part of the bureau’s commitment to safe and responsible offshore energy exploration and development, there is a continuous presence of BSEE inspectors monitoring operations on the rigs throughout the drilling season.
A BSEE inspector boarded the semi-submersible drilling unit Transocean Polar Pioneer before it began drilling the top section of the well at Burger J on July 30 and a second BSEE inspector is on board the drillship Noble Discoverer at Burger V, even though the Discoverer is not permitted to conduct drilling operations while the Polar Pioneer is operating.
In accordance with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Letter of Authorization (LOA) issued June 30, Shell must maintain a minimum spacing of 15 miles between rigs to minimize the potential for impacts on walruses in the region. Shell intends to drill at Burger J with the Polar Pioneer and and Burger V with the Discoverer. The two well sites are about nine miles apart. The LOA prohibits Shell from conducting simultaneous drilling operations at the two approved locations.
BSEE inspector’s presence on both drilling units ensures federal oversight of conditions set forth in Shell’s Applications for Permit to Drill (APD) approved by BSEE July 22. These conditions include a restriction from drilling into oil-bearing zones until the capping stack (a key piece of Arctic oil exploration response equipment designed to shut-in a well in the unlikely event of a loss of well control) is onsite and deployable within 24 hours.
On July 3, damage to the M/V Fennica caused by striking an underwater object delayed the transport of the capping stack to the Chukchi Sea. M/V Fennica underwent repairs at Vigor Industrial in Portland, OR, in late July and is currently enroute to the Chukchi Sea with the capping stack on the vessel.
If Shell is able to transport the capping stack to the Chukchi Sea, it may submit an Application for Permit to Modify the APDs and request to have this restriction reconsidered.