Slideshow image
   
becpl
Mfg. of Water well Drilling Rigs, Dth Hammers and Button Bits...
 
phe
Water Well Drilling Rigs, Dth Drilling Rigs, Rotary Drilling Rigs...
 
phe
Blast hole Drills, Water Well Drilling Rig, Mud Pumps, Vertical Turbine Pumps...
klrsai deepagetechjcr
 

Shell agrees to transport drill fluids out of Arctic seas

By Tim Bradner
Alaska Journal of Commerce
Shell has agreed to transport its used drilling fluids from Beaufort Sea exploration drilling out of the Arctic if the company finally gets government permission to drill a well next summer.

The concession aims to address concerns expressed by Inupiat residents of coastal villages, and could set a precedent for other exploration wells drilled in Arctic outer continental shelf waters because Shell's drilling approval, if it comes, will be the first by the federal government in recent years.

Typically, drill fluids are disposed overboard in offshore operations, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said, but coastal village residents had expressed concern over at-sea disposal of fluids because of possible effects on marine life on which the villages depend for subsistence.
Drill fluids are composed mostly of natural materials, but do contain chemicals that include some heavy metals.

Smith said the decision to transport the drill fluids was made voluntarily. Fluids will be stored in a barge near the Frontier Explorer, the drill ship Shell plans to use, and will be taken out of the region when the drill fleet shuts down its operation for the winter, Smith said.

The drill fluid issue is particularly sensitive to the Inupiat people because Shell's proposed drilling location in Camden Bay, east of Prudhoe Bay, is on the route of the bowhead whale fall migration.
Shell is proposing to cease drilling and move ships out of the immediate area when the whales come through.

Bowheads are sensitive to changes in water conditions and have keen sense of smell, the whalers have told Shell.

Shell's plan for summer Beaufort Sea drilling still faces uncertainties, despite Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision that the company's application to drill one well in the Beaufort can be processed by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management.

The company has said it wants a decision on its application this month to allow time for mobilization of drilling and support vessels.

The biggest uncertainty is a pending decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's internal appeals board on protests to an air quality permit issued to Shell earlier this year, Smith said.
Environmental and Alaska Native groups appealed EPA's decision to the agency's Environmental Appeals Board. The board held a hearing in October but has not yet made a decision, according to EPA's Region 10 office.

Another uncertainty Shell faces is a further step BOEM will take to review Shell's drilling application. The agency will soon publish a supplemental environmental review on changes in the company's operating plan made since last year.

BOEM published a notice of the new assessment and a public comment period will close Dec. 22, the agency's Alaska spokesman John Callahan said. After that, the new assessment document will be published and BOEM will make a final decision, Callahan said. There is no deadline for the decision.
"We can't be constrained by third-party deadlines. Our focus is on ensuring the review is done thoroughly and correctly," Callahan said.
Smith said the key change in the revised environmental assessment is that Shell will transport the used drilling fluids out of the Arctic for disposal.

The change on drilling fluids was negotiated with the North Slope Borough, a regional municipality in Arctic Alaska. Smith said it is one that environmental groups should support.
Shell's hopes are buoyed by a shift in the borough's position toward support of the company's latest plan. Previously the municipality opposed Shell's drilling.

"The plan that's on the table is closer to something we can live with. The process (of reviewing Shell's permit) should go forward," North Slope Mayor Edward Itta said in a statement.
Itta said the borough still wants to see more details of Shell's system to cap an offshore spill the company said it would have in place for its Arctic drilling.

"I hope the Interior Department will continue to move forward in giving Shell a firm answer on its permit application. They deserve to have some certainty on their plan for the upcoming year," Itta said.
The borough's position is likely have greater weight with the Interior Department than opposition voiced by some tribal groups in coastal villages that have allied themselves with environmental groups. The municipality has not joined lawsuits or appeals filed against offshore drilling by the environmental groups.
Smith said Shell is still working with BOEM on another issue on how close a second drilling vessel, the Kullik, will be to the exploration site be considered a standby rig for relief well drilling in case of a blowout. The Kullik, which had been stored in the Canadian Beaufort Sea, has been purchased by Shell for use in the Arctic and has been moved to Dutch Harbor, in the Aleutians, to be on standby.

One option is for the Kulluk to be in the Beaufort Sea near the Camden Bay drill location, but Shell is concerned about whether the proximity of the ships could complicate provisions in the company's EPA air quality permits, if they re issued.

Another option is to have the Kulluk kept at a location farther west, such as a harbor on the Seward Peninsula near the Bering Straits, Smith said, but that is several hundred miles from the exploration location.
Tim Bradner can be reached at
tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.
Drilling Today Contact