Shell to go ahead with drilling, tests

Shell to go ahead with drilling, tests

Shell is moving ahead with its plans for drilling exploration wells in the Beaufort Sea next year.

Shell plans two wells at the Siv Ullig field and two wells east of that at a location named Olympia, Paul Smith, Shell operations manager, said at a recent National Marine Fisheries Service meeting.

Siv Ullig was previously known as Hammerhead and it lies east of Prudhoe Bay and north of Point Thomson, the huge undeveloped natural gas field that borders the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The drill ship Kulluk that Shell bought this year will drill two wells.

The company is bringing in another drill ship, the Discoverer, for the other wells.

The Discoverer, which is being refurbished with a reinforced hull, will enter the Beaufort Sea at the beginning of the drilling season and will leave at the end of the season, Smith said.

The drilling season will likely last from early July to early November, depending on ice conditions.

Two icebreakers, the Vladimir Ignatyuk and the Kilabuk, will support the drill ships.

Shell also plans to shoot seismic tests of the undersea geology in both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas next year. The company’s plans for the seismic surveys are similar to its 2006 plans — start surveying in the Chukchi in July, move into the Beaufort when ice conditions permit and then return to the Chukchi later in the season. Shell is again contracting WesternGeco’s MV Gilavar for the seismic work.

In practice, it proved impossible to conduct the Beaufort seismic work this year because of an exceptionally large amount of sea ice.

“We hoped to get into the Beaufort in 2006 but we were unable to,” Smith said.

The Beaufort Sea ice also limited the site surveying that Shell accomplished this year, so the company plans to continue with this surveying activity in 2007, looking for features such as shallow water hazards. The company is also planning to drill some 400-foot-deep boreholes to obtain soil strength data for the sea floor. The company will use that data in evaluating the design, cost and feasibility of future offshore oil facilities, Smith said.

Smith stressed that in developing its plans for next year Shell will be talking to the North Slope communities and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. All offshore work will be done in accordance with the terms of a conflict-avoidance agreement with the North Slope whalers, he said.

Michael Faust from Conoco Phillips said his company is still formulating its plans for the 2007 open-water season, but the company hopes to acquire seismic data in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Although Conoco carried out seismic surveys in the Chukchi Sea this year, the company was unable to obtain as much data as it had hoped because of problems with sea ice, Faust said.

“We definitely want to go back into the Chukchi Sea,” Faust said.

As in the 2006 season, Conoco will contract with WesternGeco to use the MV Western Patriot for the seismic work.

Faust said details of what the company does in the Beaufort will depend to some extent on results of the March federal Beaufort Sea lease sale. (Conoco elected not to conduct any seismic operations in the Beaufort this year because of concerns about the impact on wildlife of multiple surveys in the same area at the same time).

In response to concerns about the potential impact of offshore seismic surveying on subsistence hunting, Shell is going to research possible techniques of seismic data acquisition from the sea ice during the winter.

“We’ve decided to do a research project and go out and see if there’s a way to do it,” Smith said. The company has a contract with Veritas to do this during the coming winter, Smith said.

Veritas will be hiring a substantial number of people from the North Slope and establishing a camp of about 120 people about a half-mile offshore Prudhoe Bay’s West Dock, Smith said. The experimental survey will take place about 12 miles offshore. The research team will try a variety of sound sources, including vibrators and a small air gun, with receivers deployed on the ice and suspended below the ice.

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