Department of Interior 'conditionally approves' Arctic drilling

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 13, 2015 - The Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) this week conditionally approved a revised multi-year Exploration Plan (EP) from Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc. for the Chukchi Sea.

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The decision comes after review and consideration of comments from the public, stakeholders and Federal and state partner agencies and tribes, the BOEM says. The Chukchi Sea is in the Arctic Ocean, northwest of Alaska.

The conditions of approval require that Shell obtain all necessary permits and authorizations. It also prevents Shell from beginning to drill until all Biological Opinions under the Endangered Species Act are issued and requires operations to comply with terms and conditions included in the Biological Opinions.

“We have taken a thoughtful approach to carefully considering potential exploration in the Chukchi Sea, recognizing the significant environmental, social and ecological resources in the region and establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, our Arctic communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “As we move forward, any offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to rigorous safety standards.”

The revised EP proposes drilling of up to six wells within the Burger Prospect, which is in approximately 140 feet of water about 70 miles northwest of the Alaskan village of Wainwright. Shell will use its M/V Noble Discoverer drillship and semi-submersible drilling unit, Transocean Polar Pioneer. The drilling units and their supporting vessels will leave the Chukchi Sea at the end of each exploration drilling season.

In its release, the Department of Interior says it is “currently undertaking an ambitious reform agenda to strengthen, update and modernize” energy regulations for the Outer Continental Shelf. Last month, it announced proposed regulations to help protect human lives and the environment from oil spills, through more stringent design requirements and operational procedures for critical well control equipment used in oil and gas operations on the OCS.

The proposed well control rule, which addresses the range of systems and equipment related to well operations, is open for public comment.

The Interior Department released proposed Arctic standards in February to ensure exploration of the Alaska OCS is subject to strong standards specifically tailored to the region's challenging and unforgiving conditions. BOEM says the proposed rule, which is open to public comment until May 27, 2015, includes many required measures previously adopted as conditions on Shell's Arctic operations and which BOEM also adopted in its approval of the revised EP. The standards build upon existing Arctic-specific standards as well as experience with previous operations offshore Alaska.

See the BOEM website for a copy of its conditional approval letter, the approved EP, the Environmental Assessment and the Finding of No Significant Impact.

 

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