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The Anchorage Daily News: Shell, whalers reach drilling deal

HUNTS VS. WELLS: Talks settle one impediment to drilling in Beaufort Sea.

By WESLEY LOY
[email protected]

Published: July 27, 2007
Last Modified: July 27, 2007 at 05:33 AM

Oil giant Shell and North Slope whaling captains this week struck a “conflict avoidance agreement” designed to keep offshore drilling from disrupting subsistence hunts.

The deal wraps up months of negotiation between the captains and Shell, which hopes to drill exploratory wells this year in the Beaufort Sea.

Both sides hailed the agreement, which settles one of several problems facing Shell before it can put its two drilling ships to work.

“We are very glad that Shell has decided to recognize the risks to our bowhead whale resource, our bowhead whale subsistence hunt and the lives of our hunters,” said Harry Brower Jr., chairman of the Barrow-based Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which represents whaling villages.

“We thank the AEWC for working with Shell to create a comprehensive plan of communication, mitigation and cooperation,” said Curtis Smith, Shell spokesman in Anchorage.

Under the agreement, Shell agrees to move only one of its drilling ships, the Frontier Discoverer, into position at the Sivulliq oil prospect initially this summer, and to halt drilling operations on Aug. 25 and move away the ship within two days. This will clear the area for the Cross Island whale hunt.

Once the hunt is over — the duration of the hunt can vary — Shell can put both its drill ships to work at Sivulliq, which is in Camden Bay west of the village of Kaktovik.

The whaling captains were afraid noisy drilling operations might drive the bowheads farther offshore, increasing the danger for whaling crews forced to range farther in small boats to hunt and harpoon whales.

The conflict avoidance agreement does not mean Shell will actually drill this year, before ice covers the Beaufort Sea in the fall.

The North Slope Borough, the whaling commission and environmental groups have fought in federal court to block Shell’s drilling plan. The borough and others also have fought to prevent the company from securing air pollution permits to run its drilling rigs.

Unless Shell can get those permits and can overcome a court order blocking the start of drilling until at least Aug. 14, then the company can’t drill, said Cam Toohey, Shell’s Alaska government relations manager.

E-mail Wesley Loy at [email protected] or call 257-4590.

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