Posted on behalf of Nicky Guttridge.
Plans to drill for oil and gas resources off the coast of Alaska have been abandoned after damage to the spill-cleanup barge Arctic Challenger, oil company Shell announced yesterday. The company began its multi-year drilling programme in the Arctic sea earlier this month (see ‘Arctic oil drilling begins in Chukchi sea‘), but the project has been plagued with difficulties.
In early September, Shell was granted permission to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea until 24 September, but no later, owing to the dangers of encroaching ice fields. They requested an extra three weeks of drilling time, but now damage to oil containers — or ‘domes’ — on the barge during recent tests means that the project does not meet the drill-permit safety requirements.
In a statement released yesterday, Shell estimated that dome repairs would take “some days”. This setback on an already limited schedule has led the company to revise and delay plans for the 2012–13 exploration programme, citing reasons such as ice-floe safety and local whaling operations alongside the necessary barge reparations.
Although Shell will not drill in any oil-bearing zones for the remainder of this year, it will continue preparatory drilling, boring numerous wells known as ‘top holes’ in the Chukchi Sea. Similar operations will occur in the Beaufort Sea, another area in which Shell is pursuing exploratory drilling. These top holes will then be capped and abandoned until next year.
Shell has suffered many setbacks with its drilling programme. The company had trouble in June when it tried to obtain approval for its emissions from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The company asked the EPA to increase its limits on pollution and particulate emissions, claiming to be unable to meet the required limits with available technology. The EPA agreed, but very soon after drilling began, Shell suffered another setback when one of its drill ships, the Noble Discoverer, had to move to escape the path of an ice floe. The latest hold-up ends Shell’s Arctic drilling for 2012.