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Shell Arctic season ends

Shell Arctic season ends; top holes drilled at Burger, Sivulliq

Shell has ended its 2012 drilling season in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas, company spokesman Curtis Smith said Oct. 31, the last day that the company was permitted to drill under the terms of its approved exploration plans. Smith said that the company has drilled the top sections of the Burger-A well in the Chukchi Sea and the Sivulliq well in the Beaufort Sea, and that these top holes will position Shell for a successful drilling program in 2013.

“In support of 2012 drilling, Shell deployed numerous assets and rotated thousands of employees to the Arctic for the first time in 20 years,” Smith said. “We are very pleased with the work we accomplished this year and look forward to picking up where we left off when the sea ice retreats in 2013.”

Shell had originally hoped to drill up to three wells in the Burger prospect in the Chukchi Sea, about 80 miles west of the northwestern end of the North Slope, and up to two wells in the Sivulliq and Torpedo prospects, on the western side of Camden Bay in the Beaufort Sea. However, delays in the deployment of the Arctic Challenger, the oil containment barge that forms part of the company’s oil spill response fleet, caused the company to trim back its plans to the drilling of the top hole sections of wells, above any hydrocarbon bearing zones. The company has said that the drilling of a top hole typically accounts for more than half of the total drilling time for the type of well it plans for its Alaska exploration program.

Containment system

Shell commissioned the retrofit of the Arctic Challenger with a new Arctic oil containment system, with the retrofit starting in December. The containment system is designed to gather and process oil leaking from an out-of-control well, in the unlikely event of a well blowout.

The retrofit took longer than expected, thus further delaying the start of an Arctic exploration drilling season already impacted by the late dispersal of winter sea ice in the northern Chukchi Sea. And then, following damage to the containment system during testing of the system in September, Shell decided that it was no longer feasible to drill into hydrocarbons this year — obtaining permits to drill into hydrocarbons depended on the deployment of the containment barge.

The Arctic Challenger has subsequently been certified for its intended use. And, with a program in place for repairs to the containment system, Shell says that it is confident that the barge will be ready for deployment in the 2013 drilling season.

—Alan Bailey

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