US launches expedited assessment of 2012 Arctic operations

Posted on 09 January 2013

The US Department of Interior has launched an expedited, high-level assessment of the 2012 offshore drilling program in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas to review practices and identify challenges, as well as lessons learned, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced on 8 January. The review, which is expected to be completed within 60 days, will pay special attention to challenges that Shell encountered in connection with certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger; the deployment of its containment dome; and operational issues associated with two drilling rigs.

The review is intended to help inform future permitting processes in the region, with the US Coast Guard providing technical assistance for the review.

“Developing America’s domestic energy sources is essential for reducing our dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home, and the administration is fully committed to exploring for potential energy resources in frontier areas such as the Arctic,” Secretary Salazar said. “Exploration allows us to better comprehend the true scope of our resources in the Arctic and to more fully understand the nature of the risks and benefits of development in this region, but we also recognize that the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment demand an even higher level of scrutiny.”

The review of Shell’s Arctic activities will be led by Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) director Tommy Beaudreau, who has been selected to serve as the acting assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management. The review will look at Shell’s safety management systems, its oversight of contracted services and its ability to meet the strict standards in place for Arctic development.

“As part of our department’s oversight responsibilities, our review will look at Shell’s management and operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas,” Mr Beaudreau said. “We will assess Shell’s performance in the Arctic’s challenging environment.”

During limited preparatory drilling operations last season, Shell constructed top-hole sections for one well each in the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) conducted unprecedented oversight and had inspectors present onboard each Shell rig around the clock throughout those operations.

“The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement demands operators make safety at all levels at all times their number one priority, and we expect the highest level of performance from operators in the Arctic,” said BSEE director James A. Watson. “As we oversee historic domestic drilling, BSEE will continue its unprecedented oversight of drilling activities in the Arctic, and we will continue to hold anyone operating in public waters to the highest safety and environmental standards.”

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