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Alaska Journal of Commerce: Shell’s drilling plans calls for a flotilla in the Beaufort

By Tim Bradner

Big numbers: Summer drilling project calls for 18 ships, eight aircraft and 300 workers in offshore search for oil

Shell Oil Co. plans to operate a fleet of 18 major vessels, eight aircraft and employ more than 300 in its summer 2007 offshore exploration programs in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, according to information released by the company. Included among the vessels are two drillships that will explore in the eastern Alaska Beaufort Sea, icebreakers, anchor-handling vessels, a supply vessel, a large oil spill response barge and an Arctic tanker capable of holding 500,000 barrels of oil.

A separate group of vessels would operate in the Chukchi Sea, where Shell plans seismic surveys in preparation for a federal Outer Continental Shelf lease sale planned for this November. Rick Fox, Shell’s Alaska manager, cautions that his company must still secure several key permits from federal agencies before proceeding with its summer program, although the U.S. Minerals Management Service has approved Shell’s exploration plan.

The go-ahead from the MMS is an important first step, Fox said, but Shell must still obtain approvals from the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The company must also reach a conflict avoidance agreement with Inupiat Eskimo whalers, which Shell will negotiate with the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

Meanwhile, Shell is gearing up for a major offshore program, the first in many years off any of Alaska’s coasts. The last major offshore exploration program, also by Shell, was in the Chukchi Sea in the early 1990s.

Fox said that Shell has signed a three-year lease to use a new 65,000-square-foot aviation support facility being built in Deadhorse, at Prudhoe Bay, and plans to begin using the building in July.

The building, being built by a joint venture of Fairweather E&P and Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., includes hangers as well as facilities for emergency communication, training, a medical clinic and housing for personnel.

Two large drillships and a fleet of support vessels are due to arrive in the Beaufort Sea in July, when ice conditions allow navigation. Shell hopes to begin the drilling of three planned exploration wells in early August at its Sivulliq prospect, near a discovery made by Unocal in the 1980s. Unocal’s discovery, named Hammerhead, was not commercial at the time. Shell’s three-year exploration plan includes a number of possible locations, all in the Camden Bay area east of Prudhoe Bay. However, ice conditions, which differ each year, will determine just where drilling will actually take place.

The fleet assembled by Shell is capable of three to four wells per year, which means the company could possibly drill 11 to 12 wells in its three-year program, depending on ice conditions. “Our program would be very successful if we can drill that many,” Fox said.

Shell has also started recruiting for the work force it will need. Many summer employees will be hired to man oil spill response vessels that must be on standby. The company’s contractor for spill response, Arctic Slope Energy Services, will hire as many people as possible from North Slope communities.

Arctic Slope Energy Services is a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow. Other workers, fluent in Inupiat, will be hired from local villages to operate communications facilities that will help Shell’s vessels avoid areas where local people conduct subsistence whaling. Others, familiar with sea mammals, will work as observers on vessels and aircraft.

According to information on vessels released by Shell, the fleet being assembled for the summer program includes the Kulluk, a drilling barge with a conical hull and a 133-foot-diameter deck to be brought to Alaska waters from the Canadian Beaufort Sea; the Frontier Discoverer, a large drillship now being fitted with an ice hull in a Singapore shipyard; two large Russian-owned icebreakers, the Vladimir Ignatyuk, an icebreaker built in Canada, and the Kapitan Dranitsyn, built in Finland. Both icebreakers are owned by the Murmansk Shipping Co.

Other vessels include large anchor-handling and supply tugs, two oil spill response barges, and the 205-foot Arctic Endeavor, a barge owned by Crowley Maritime Corp.

Arrangements to charter the 500,000-barrel Arctic tanker to be included in the fleet have not been completed yet, but the owner and operator will not be a U.S. company because there are no American-owned Arctic-class tankers.

March 4, 2007

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  2. Ernesto Giraldo Muñoz says:

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    thank you.
    Ernesto Giraldo Muñoz

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