Washington, 10 September (Argus) — Shell is being forced to move away from its prospect in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska because of encroaching sea ice, just one day after the company began drilling there.
Shell said it will move off the Burger-A well temporarily. “We began monitoring this ice when it was more than 100 miles away,” Shell officials said. “The wind began to shift, and we made the call to disconnect from the well.”
Shell has approval to drill about 1,400ft (427m) to set the first two strings of casing in non-oil bearing sands, as well as a mudline cellar, which should protect a blowout preventer from possible ice scouring.
Shell has yet to win approve to drill in oil-bearing zones. Before that can happen, regulators first must certify the company's specially equipped containment barge, the Arctic Challenger. With the US Coast Guard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement on hand, the Challenger began sea trials today, off the coast of the state of Washington.
If the company wins approval to move beyond the preliminary exploration work, the company must, under the terms of its exploration plan, halt drilling in hydrocarbon-bearing zones in the Chukchi by 24 September, to give the company ample time to drill a relief well in the event of a blowout before sea ice typically forms in the area. All exploration work must cease by 31 October.
Shell has asked regulators to extend the drilling season for the Chukchi to as late as 18 November, saying its weather forecast models indicate ice will not develop in the area as early as usual.
Shell said the ice formation disrupting operations today is a “defined, accumulation of ice,” and not the seasonal return of the pack ice.
“This proves we have the capability to identify and track the moment of sea ice,” Shell said. “It also proves we have the capability to make adjustments to maintain safe operations.”
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