Agency seeks more details on Shell Arctic drill plan

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The federal agency that oversees offshore petroleum drilling wants more information on plans for Arctic Ocean drilling in 2014 by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which has not decided whether it will resume operations this year.

Shell in 2012 drilled pilot holes and dug mudline cellars in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast and in the Beaufort Sea off the state’s north coast. The company was not allowed to drill into oil-bearing deposits because required response equipment was not on hand.

Shell also experienced vessel problems, culminating with the Kulluk, which had drilled in the Beaufort, running aground on New Year’s Eve in 2012 off an island near Kodiak as it was being towed across the Gulf of Alaska.

Shell chose not to drill in 2013.

Shell on Nov. 26 submitted a 2014 drilling plan for the Chukchi Sea only. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management requested additional information Dec. 20. Most questions were answered, the agency said, but it sought additional information Tuesday.

BOEM previously had asked Shell to provide information on modifications to correct deficiencies on the Noble Discoverer, which drilled in the Chukchi in 2012 and could be used again this year.

Regional supervisor David Johnston in the latest request asked Shell for assurances of management changes that previously had allowed the deficiencies to remain unresolved on the drill vessel.

“What adjustments or changes has Shell made to its project management/implementation /assurance plans to ensure that operational deficiencies, should they occur in the future, will be quickly detected and fixed?” the agency asked.

BOEM had asked for information on the failure of the four engines on the Aiviq, the anchor handler that lost tow lines to the Kulluk. Though the Kulluk would not be used in 2014, BOEM wanted to know steps Shell would take to prevent repeat problems on the Aiviq.

The agency also wants drill logs and technical information to find out how Shell concluded permafrost or hydrates were not present in a pilot hole drilled in 2012.

Shell will be required to submit a third-party audit of its Safety and Environmental Management System.

BOEM also asked for additional emissions compliance data.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said by email the company is taking a methodical approach to this exploration phase and will move forward if its program meets high standards applied to operations around the world.

“If, at any time, we feel we’re not ready to carry out a safe, successful drilling program, we will pause,” Smith said. “At this stage, we are still communicating with the relevant agencies, but we have not finalized the timing for our next operations.”

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