Shell files to drill in Alaska shallow waters *update*

Royal Dutch Shell has applied for a permit to drill in the shallow waters of Alaska’s Beaufort Sea next year, including plans for an improved spill response system.

In 2009, the government approved Shell’s offshore Alaska plan for exploration, which included drilling in the Chukchi Sea, but the decision was challenged by environmental and community groups. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the plan in May, but the Deepwater Horizon accident further delayed plans to drill.

The new permit application is for just one well in the Beaufort.

“We have every reason to believe the administration will permit 2011 exploration drilling in Alaska,” Shell Alaska Vice-President Pete Slaiby said in a conference call. “We should have approval by the fifth of November, but that could be extended.”

Shell said it will also engineer an oil spill containment system to capture oil at the source in the event of a shallow-water blowout. An animation on the company website shows a system that would lower a device on top of a leak to funnel oil to a collection system on the surface. Redundant blowout preventers are also included in the plan. Here’s a link to a presentation Shell has made to Alaskans about the spill response system.

A second drilling rig has also been moved to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to serve as a relief well rig should it be needed.

The worst-case scenario says Shell would need to be able to capture 5,500 barrels per day in case of a spill, but Slaiby said its plan will be ready to at least double that capability.

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*Update*

Cindy Shogan, the executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said the U.S. Department of Interior should require Shell to submit an entirely new exploration plan. The drillign is in areas where endangered bowhead whales have been seen before:

“Oil spills have devastating impacts on offshore and onshore resources, and the people that rely upon them,” Shogan said. “The presence of Shell’s armada could also harm marine mammals, through deflecting them from preferred habitat.  We know that blowouts can occur in shallow waters such as in the Beaufort and there is only a limited ability to respond to them under any conditions – much less with broken ice.”
Shogan said Shell’s decision to not try and drill in the Chukchi next year was “a responsible decision.”
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