Shell begins second drilling operation in Alaska’s Arctic seas

Shell Oil Co. began drilling an exploratory well Wednesday  in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska, beginning its second drilling operation in a month in Alaska’s Arctic waters.

“This marks the first time two rigs are drilling, simultaneously, offshore Alaska in more than two decades,” spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said in an email.

The conical drillship Kulluk began the work at Shell’s Sivulliq prospect after Alaska natives in Kaktovik completed their fall hunt for migrating bowhead whales.

Early last month, the drillship Noble Discoverer began drilling at Shell’s Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea.

At both locations, Shell is permitted to bore a pilot hole beneath the seafloor to check for unexpected obstructions or pockets of hydrocarbons, and then to widen the hole and add pipe and cement.

But because of problems with required spill containment equipment, and with the Arctic winter approaching, the company has delayed until next summer any efforts to drill into oil and gas  deposits.

Environmentalists have fought the return of offshore drilling to Alaska’s Arctic, contending conditions there make spill response especially difficult.