WASHINGTON — Shell is working to convince the Obama administration that it has learned from its recent mishaps and is ready to launch a new round of Arctic drilling next year.
In a 64-page “integrated operations plan” filed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Nov. 26 and released Wednesday, Shell outlines the broad contours of its planned activity in the Chukchi Sea.
The company is seeking to finish drilling one exploratory well and bore four others at its Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea, using a newly leased drillship, after its Kulluk conical drilling unit ran aground last year.
The company has devoted nearly $5 billion and eight years of work into a new generation of Arctic oil exploration, decades after floating rigs drilled the last offshore wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
Shell’s new integrated operations plan comes in response to a March report from the Interior Department that blamed the company for not sufficiently overseeing and managing a web of contractors. The Interior Department also said Shell had prompted “serious questions regarding its ability to operate safely and responsibly” offshore in Alaska, after a series of incidents last year.
In the filed document, Shell says it recognizes the risks:
The Arctic offshore waters of Alaska present considerable challenges in terms of harsh environmental conditions, remoteness, and logistical obstacles. However, Shell has most recently been intensively engaged in Arctic Alaska since 2006, following exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea in the 1980s and ’90s and builds its 2014 plans on a solid foundation of practical operational experience in the region. … Assets have been carefully selected to operate in Alaskan offshore conditions, in addition to employees and contract personnel being trained for these conditions.
It anticipates mobilizing an armada of 29 vessels, including anchor handling vessels, barges and oil spill response equipment. Unlike in 2012, when it largely relied on one helicopter to fly people and equipment to its drilling operations, Shell anticipates it will regularly use two twin-engine S-92 helicopters if the work is approved for next year. A third helicopter would be on standby in Barrow in case it were needed for search-and-rescue operations.
The company said it would continue using an internal weather advisory center, with high-resolution satellite imagery, ocean buoys and modeling, to monitor ice and other conditions surrounding its operations near Alaska.
The company said lessons learned in 2012 spurred planned and ongoing upgrades to the drillship Noble Discoverer, including work aimed at improving reliability and air emissions. While the vessel is in an Asian shipyard, workers are tackling its hull and “major ship systems with a focus on improving safety and environmental performance and operational efficiency,” Shell said.
Shell said it also is improving its Arctic containment system, its contractor management procedures and its logistics management.
“Shell is a learning organization, and its implementation of risk management and continued improvement are central elements of this (plan) for 2014 operations,” the company said.
Shell acknowledged that it will rely heavily on contracted assets during its planned 2014 drilling, but it is assuring the contractors “remain fully read for, and undertake, safe operations.” It is not clear what specific changes Shell has made to its lineup of contractors for 2014.
Feds want more
Regulators at the ocean energy bureau have asked for more information about Shell’s hope to reduce the frequency of tests on its blowout preventer to once every two weeks (instead of weekly). It also wants more details on the capabilities of Shell’s chosen drillship and has asked what is being done to modify vessels for extreme Alaska weather conditions.
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