Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Administration Gives Shell Go Ahead For Chukchi Sea Exploration

Aug 30: The Department of Interior (DOI), Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director James Watson announced that Royal Dutch Shell will be allowed to move forward with certain limited preparatory activities in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska. Watson said, "It is our highest priority that any activities that occur offshore Alaska be held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards. Shell's applications for permits to drill into potential oil reservoirs remain under review, and Shell will not be authorized to drill into areas that may contain oil unless and until the required spill containment system is fully certified, inspected, and located in the Arctic. The announcement authorizes Shell to move forward with limited activities well short of oil-bearing zones that can be done safely now prior to the certification and arrival of the containment system."

    Under the permit approved, Shell will be allowed to begin certain preparatory activities in the Chukchi Sea that will increase overall safety. These activities include the creation of a mudline cellar, a safety feature that ensures that the blowout preventer is adequately protected below the level of the seafloor. Shell is also authorized to drill and set the first two strings of casing into shallow non-oil-bearing zones.

    Under conditions and requirements set forth in Shell's Chukchi and Beaufort Sea Exploration Plans and Oil Spill Response Plans, which were approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and BSEE, Shell is required to receive certification of its containment system, which is designed to capture flowing liquid hydrocarbons in the unlikely event of a loss of well control, by the U.S. Coast Guard and have the vessel positioned in the Arctic before any drilling into oil-bearing zones can occur. BSEE engineers recently conducted an initial inspection of Shell's containment system, but the company has yet to secure the final Coast Guard certification.

    BSEE inspectors will be present on the Noble Discoverer to provide continuous oversight and monitoring of all approved activities. BSEE safety experts have already conducted thorough and comprehensive inspections of the drillship and Shell's response equipment. 
    U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee issued a release commenting on the BSEE decision saying, "Today's decision is a positive step that will allow Shell to begin necessary preparatory work, while maintaining the highest environmental standards to ensure the protection of the Arctic. While we would all like to see a discovery this summer, the most important thing is for Shell to continue to make progress and demonstrate once again that Arctic drilling can be done safely. While many environmental activists continue to cast doubt on Arctic production, we know from experience that development can be carried out safely -- more than 100 wells have been drilled in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas since the 1970s." She indicated that the Arctic waters off Alaska's northern coast contain an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Federal government.
    Earthjustice attorney Holly Harris in Alaska released a statement saying, "Secretary Salazar promised the most heavily scrutinized operation in the world, but so far when push comes to shove, the administration is not holding Shell to its commitments. Shell has known the barge and the containment system were required for months, but has failed to meets its safety and spill response obligations and even its basic deadlines. Nonetheless, the Secretary today announced that he will let Shell move forward with preparatory work and drilling without the required oil spill response equipment.
   "Today's announcement also made no mention of the disturbing trend of broken promises and questionable actions by Shell in recent weeks. Shell has admitted that it cannot comply with the terms of its Clean Air Act permit. Instead, Shell is asking the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver. Shell also backed away from the fact that it based its oil spill cleanup plans on the assumption it will remove 95 percent of spilled oil before that oil reaches shore, now claiming that it will only 'encounter' the oil. Shell also lost control of its Noble Discoverer drillship near Dutch Harbor, Alaska a few weeks ago, but never explained why it happened or why it won't happen again. The Administration promised scrutiny, but we're not seeing it yet. Enough is enough -- it is time for the Administration stop making excuses for the one of the most profitable companies in the world."
    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior attorney Niel Lawrence issued a statement saying, "Secretary Salazar is right to keep repeating that he will hold Shell accountable to make sure drilling in America's Arctic is safe. But today's action looks like the administration is playing right into Shell's game of acting like drilling is inevitable. While this is an interim step only, this is like a building inspector letting a developer start construction on a skyscraper on shaky ground before the safety plans are even complete. It's premature, it's unwarranted and it's wrong -- especially when it's happening in one of the most pristine places on earth."
   Access the BSEE release (click here). Access the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Shell 2012 Exploration Plan - Chukchi Sea (click here). Access the release from Sen. Murkowski (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). [#Energy/OCS]
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