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Shell’s offshore Alaska drilling program still not a given

Shell’s offshore Alaska drilling program still not a given: Watson

Houston (Platts)–1May2012/1245 pm EDT/1645 GMT

Despite Shell’s assurances that it hopes to begin its oil drilling program offshore Alaska this summer, US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director James Watson pointed out Tuesday that there are still several steps to go in his agency before this is certain.

“We still don’t know if this drilling activity is going to occur,” he said, speaking to reporters after a presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

The company still needs individual drilling permits for each of the exploratory wells it has proposed — two in the Beaufort Sea and three in the Chukchi Sea in the shallow waters off Alaska. The company has all major permits from government agencies, including approval from the Department of the Interior last week for its oil spill response plan.

Shell also has to develop its own well-containment system in the event of a spill, as outside entities that can handle this type of contingency in the Gulf of Mexico do not exist in the Arctic, Watson said.

Watson said that Shell is set to deliver its proposed system to Seattle, Washington, for testing, and the BSEE will begin this “as soon are they are ready to have us test it.”

Watson added that while he has “no indication so far that there is any problem” with the applications for drilling, he thinks “the bigger challenge is with the containment system” as far as getting it approved by this summer.

“It’s something that is perhaps going to come right down to the wire the way the schedule is going,” he said, adding that there is a limited ice-free window for starting drilling in the Arctic. “I’m not driven by any particular deadline” other than safety, he added.

Shell’s plans have drawn criticism for their purported environmental impact. Greenpeace activists in protests Tuesday boarded an ice-breaking ship hired by Shell for the eventual drilling campaign. (See story, 1148 GMT.) Shell has said it is aware of the situation.

Under the protest, 20 activists boarded the Nordica icebreaking vessel in Helsinki harbor, Finland, Greenpeace said.

–Carla Bass, [email protected]

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