Shell Sinks First Well in the Arctic
Monday, September 10 2012
After months of delays and mishaps, Shell Oil has started its controversial drilling program in the Arctic. The Noble Discoverer drill rig cut into the Chukchi Sea floor Sunday morning.
“It’s the first time a drill bit has touched the seafloor in the U.S. Chukchi Sea in over twenty years," says Shell spokesperson Curtis Smitih. "Of course, it also marks the culmination of our six year effort to begin drilling for potentially significant oil and gas reserves in the Alaska offshore.”
The rig will drill down to 1500 feet over the next few weeks, through the rock layers above the target oil and gas. The company isn't allowed to touch the reserves themselves until its oil spill containment barge arrives -- if it arrives. The Arctic Challenger is still under construction in Bellingham, Washington. Sea trials were scheduled for the weekend but there's no word yet as to whether they were completed.
Shell has asked the Interior Department to extend the drilling season in the Chukchi beyond September 24, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said previously that he won’t even consider it until the Arctic Challenger is finished.
Smith says the company isn't discouraged by the limitations of the drilling program.
“The way we're looking at it is drilling is drilling and the only question remaining for this season is how much we drill before we run out of time.”
Shell had originally planned to drill five exploratory wells this summer. At this point, one or two is more likely. The company still hasn't received permits to start drilling the Beaufort Sea, where its other drill rig, the Kulluk, is waiting out the end of fall subsistence whaling.