Shell prepares for Beaufort Sea drilling

Shell has begun anchoring its Kulluk conical drilling unit in the Beaufort Sea as it prepares to begin initial work on an exploratory oil well in the waters north of Alaska.

A company spokeswoman confirmed that it had begun connecting the conical drilling rig to anchors in the Beaufort Sea. According to separate data, the work began just before midnight Wednesday.

The move comes less than a week after federal regulators gave Shell the green light to begin initial drilling operations in the Beaufort Sea once native Alaskans in the area have concluded their fall hunt of migrating bowhead whale.

In some years, it has taken nearly a month for some communities along the north Alaska coast to use up their allotted “strikes” or attempts to kill the whales. And it appears native Alaskans in Kaktovik have not yet concluded their whale hunt.

But Shell has been in talks with the Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission about what work the company could begin before whaling is over.

Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said the company had begun connecting the Kulluk to its pre-set anchors “in consultation with the AEWC.”

Federal regulators authorized Shell to begin initial drilling at its well site in the Beaufort Sea, including digging a hole in the sea floor to hold a blowout preventer that will be used to safeguard against unexpected surges in oil and gas from the wellhead. By putting the BOP underground, the company aims to keep it out of the way of unexpected large ice floes that could otherwise damage the equipment.

The company also will be able to bore a pilot hole roughly 1,400 feet below the sea floor to check for unexpected obstructions or pockets of oil and gas, before eventually widening that hole and filling it with pipe and cement. The federal permit will allow Shell to complete the first two casing strings at the well.