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Source: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management


Shell is finally drilling in the Chukchi Sea. The semi-submersible Polar Pioneer “spudded” the Burger J well at 5 p.m. July 30, company spokeswoman Meg Baldino said. Meanwhile, an ice-management vessel sent to Oregon for repairs, the Fennica, is now in Dutch Harbor en route to the Chukchi Sea after the repairs were complete.

Baldino confirmed the location of the vessel Aug. 5.

“The Fennica is now safely on its way and will join Shell’s exploration fleet in the Chukchi Sea — where the Transocean Polar Pioneer commenced initial drilling operations,” Baldino said in a statement. “We remain committed to operating safely and responsibly and adding to Shell’s long history of exploration offshore Alaska.”

Thirteen Greenpeace protesters in Portland delayed the departure of the Fennica by a day, dangling from the St. Johns Bridge over the Willamette River to block the safe passage of the vessel. Police removed the protestors from the bridge and chased a horde of kayakers from the ship’s path, allowing the Fennica to pass safely on July 30.

A federal judge in Anchorage held Greenpeace USA in contempt of court July 30 for violating an injunction prohibiting interference with Shell’s fleet, setting a fine of $2,500 per hour that accumulated from 10 a.m. Alaska time that day until the Fennica safely passed just before 5 p.m.

The Fennica developed a hull crack after striking a previously uncharted obstacle on departing Dutch Harbor July 3. The vessel was under the control of a licensed marine pilot at the time.

Until the Fennica arrives with a critical “capping stack” used to control an undersea blowout, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has given Shell permission to drill “top holes,” or the upper parts of wells that do not penetrate potential oil-bearing formations.

Meanwhile, as the Polar Pioneer continues work at Burger J, Shell’s second drillship on the scene, the Noble Discoverer, is moored nearby, at the Burger V well location.

The wells are grouped around the Burger discovery made originally by Shell in the early 1990s. In 2012 during its last foray to the Arctic, Shell was able to drill a partly-complete well, Burger “A” at the site.

The company chose not to return to Burger A this season because it now believes a better picture of the potential reservoir can be gained by drilling at nearby locations identified as Burger J and V in the company’s drill plan.

The Transocean Polar Pioneer drill rig is currently drilling at the Burger J prospect while the Noble Discoverer drill rig is moored at Burger V. Shell may only drill one well at a time, and the Noble Discoverer will commence work after work stops at the Burger J well.

Shell may drill just one well at a time, although the second drillship can be kept nearby and ready to drill when the first vessel finishes a well. Federal rules prohibit simultaneous drilling within 15 miles, and Shell’s planned well locations, for this year, are nine miles apart.

“In the days to come, the team aboard the Polar Pioneer will work to complete the top portion of the well in anticipation of drilling to depth once the Fennica arrives on site,” Baldino said. “The top portion of the well is divided into stages. Initially, the ‘mudline cellar’, a 20-foot by 35-foot excavation, is drilled to allow the Blow Out Preventer to sit beneath the sea floor. The remaining portion of the well involves a series of casing and cement as approved and detailed in our permit. Essentially, this becomes the foundation for the well.”

Federal regulators have approved drilling without the “capping stack” so long as the well does not reach hydrocarbon-bearing zones.

“At this time we expect the Fennica to be ‘in theatre’ (in the Chukchi Sea) in time to drill into hydrocarbon-bearing zones. We are not working under any pre-determined timelines,” Baldino said.

Shell has permits to drill up to two wells. “Our plan is to make as much use of the time that we have in theatre before the ice arrives in (fall) 2015. Whatever we don’t accomplish in the summer ahead we are fully prepared to finish in 2016,” Baldino said.

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