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Petroleum News: Shell plans 4 Beaufort wells in ‘07

Two wells at Siv Ullig and two at another location north of Camden Bay; seismic planned for the Chukchi and Beaufort

Alan Bailey
Petroleum News
Week of October 29, 2006

Shell is moving ahead with its exploration plans for the northern Alaska outer continental shelf.

At the National Marine Fisheries Service’s annual Arctic Open Water Peer Review Meeting on Oct. 24 Shell Operations Manager Paul Smith said that Shell plans to drill four wells in the U.S. Beaufort Sea during the 2007 open water season.

“The new thing we’re doing in 2007 will be drilling activities,” Smith said. “We have four wells planned for the Camden Bay area.”

Smith said that two of the wells will be at the Siv Ullig field (previously known as Hammerhead) and two of the wells will be some distance to the east of Siv Ullig, at a location named Olympia.

Using two drillships, two icebreakers

The drillship Kulluk that Shell purchased in 2006 will drill two of the wells. And Shell is bringing in another drillship, the Discoverer, to drill the other two wells.

The Discoverer, which is being refurbished with a reinforced hull, will enter the Beaufort Sea at the beginning of the drilling season and will leave the region again at the end of the season, Smith said. The drilling season will likely last from early July to early November, depending on the ice conditions.

Two icebreakers, the Vladimir Ignatyuk and the Kilabuk, will support the drillships.

Shell also plans to shoot seismic in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in 2007. The company’s plans for the seismic surveys are similar to its 2006 plans — start surveying in the Chukchi in July, move into the Beaufort when ice conditions permit and then return to the Chukchi later in the season. And, as with last year’s program, Shell is contracting WesternGeco’s MV Gilavar for the seismic work.

In practice, it proved impossible to conduct the Beaufort seismic work in the 2006 season because of an exceptionally large amount of sea ice in the region.

“We hoped to get into the Beaufort in 2006 but we were unable to,” Smith said.

The Beaufort Sea ice also limited the amount of site surveying that Shell was able to accomplish in 2006. So the company plans to continue with this surveying activity in 2007, looking for features such as shallow water hazards. The company is also planning to drill some 400-foot deep boreholes, to obtain soil strength data for sea floor. The company will use that data in evaluating the design, cost and feasibility of future offshore oil facilities, Smith said.

Smith also said that, time permitting in the 2007 open water season, Shell will drill some well cellars, in preparation for the following year’s drilling program.

Smith stressed that in developing its plans for 2007 Shell will be talking to the North Slope communities and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. All offshore work will be done in accordance with the terms of a conflict avoidance agreement with the North Slope whalers, he said.

ConocoPhillips headed back to Chukchi

Michael Faust from ConocoPhillips said that his company is still formulating its plans for the 2007 open water season. But the company hopes to carry out seismic data acquisition in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
Although ConocoPhillips has carried out seismic surveys in the Chukchi Sea in 2006, the company had not been able to obtain as much data as it had hoped because of problems with sea ice, Faust said.

“We definitely want to go back into the Chukchi Sea,” Faust said.

As in the 2006 season, ConocoPhillips will contract with WesternGeco to use the M.V. Western Patriot for the seismic work.

Faust said that the details of what the company does in the Beaufort Sea will depend to some extent on the results of the March Minerals Management Service Beaufort Sea lease sale (ConocoPhillips elected not to conduct any seismic operations in the Beaufort Sea in 2006 because of concerns about the impact on wildlife of multiple surveys in the same area at the same time).

Shell to research winter seismic possibilities

In response to concerns about the potential impact of offshore seismic surveying on subsistence hunting, Shell is going to research possible techniques for seismic data acquisition from the sea ice during the winter.

“We’ve decided to do a research project and go out and see if there’s a way to do it,” Smith said. The company has a contract with Veritas to do this during the coming winter, Smith said.

Veritas will be hiring a substantial number of people from the North Slope and establishing a camp of about 120 people about a half-mile offshore the West Dock at Prudhoe Bay, Smith said. The experimental survey will take place about 12 miles offshore. The research team will try a variety of sound sources, including vibrators and a small air gun, in conjunction with receivers both deployed on the ice and hung below the ice.

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