Shell is one step closer to drilling in the Arctic Sea this summer after the US government approved its second oil spill response plan, this time for the Beaufort Sea.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) announced on 28 March that the US oil giant’s contingency plan for an accident in the area had finally made the cut after previously failed attempts.
This is second contingency plan from Shell to have been given the all-clear; earlier this month a response proposal for a spill in the Chukchi Sea was approved.
Shell plans to drill up to four shallow water exploration wells in the Beaufort Sea this summer. However, despite the approval, before Shell can drill it must obtain approval from BSEE for each of the wells.
Each application will be analysed based on the unique characteristics of the proposed well and must fully comply with rigorous post-Deepwater Horizon safety and environmental standards, said the BSEE.These relate to well design, workplace safety as well as the operator’s ability to deal with the potential for a blowout and worst-case discharge.
Shell has proposed a well control containment capability that consists of a combination of a subsea capping stack, and surface separation equipment that will be located on a newly-built containment vessel, all of which will be inspected by BSEE prior to the beginning of any proposed operations.
BSEE Director James A. Watson said the focus now was “to hold Shell accountable and to follow-up with exercises, reviews and inspections to ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready.”
Shell plans to stage a full suite of response assets near the offshore drill site for immediate response, while also having additional equipment available for quick delivery in the event that sustained spill response is necessary.
Previous plans from Shell were rejected by the BSEE. To be approved this time around, the oil giant needed to prepare for a worst case discharge nearly three times that of their previous plan, and in adverse weather conditions.
Shell was also required to graph the trajectory of the potential worst case discharge over a 30-day period, as opposed to its previous three-day graph.
Shell must also comply with requirements imposed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in its conditional approval of Shell’s Exploration Plan for the Beaufort Sea.
These conditions include requirements that Shell have available and demonstrate its ability to deploy a well capping and containment system, as well as take measures to avoid conflicts with Native Alaskan subsistence activities.
Specifically, beginning on 1 August, Shell must employ an approved, site-specific bowhead whale monitoring program. Shell must also suspend any drilling operations in the Beaufort Sea by 25 August and may not resume activity until after nearby Native Alaskan villages have completed their subsistence hunts and Shell has received approval from BOEM.