The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued conditional approval to Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc.’s revised Exploration Plan under leases in the Chukchi Sea Planning Area.
“In its Exploration Plan, Shell proposes drilling up to six exploration wells in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea beginning in the 2012 drilling season,” BOEM said in a news release:
Among the conditions of approval is a measure designed to mitigate the risk of an end-of-season oil spill by requiring Shell to leave sufficient time to implement cap and containment operations as well as significant clean-up before the onset of sea ice, in the event of a loss of well control. Given current technology and weather forecasting capabilities, Shell must cease drilling into zones capable of flowing liquid hydrocarbons 38 days before the first-date of ice encroachment over the drill site. Based on a 5-year analysis of historic weather patterns, BOEM anticipates November 1 as the earliest anticipated date of ice encroachment. The 38-day period would also provide a window for the drilling of a relief well, should one be required.
Approval is also conditioned on a series of other measures to increase safety and confirm the availability of response equipment, including a well capping and containment system, and to ensure that Shell takes important steps to avoid conflicts with subsistence activities. In addition to BSEE approvals, Shell must also obtain necessary permits from other agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.