After months of delays and mishaps, Shell could start drilling in the Arctic over the weekend. The company had hoped to begin earlier this week, but stormy weather in the Chukchi Sea has delayed preparations.
“We’ve seen some really heavy winds and high sea states in the area,” says Shell spokeperson Curtis Smith. “We’ve performed operations, but not all of them. That’s moved us into this weekend. If we continue with the progress we’ve been making, we can be moored up to all of our anchors within 24 hours and then drilling can start.”
Even though Shell is approved to drill, the company has to steer clear of oil and gas layers until their oil spill containment barge arrives. The Arctic Challenger is under construction in Bellingham, Washington. Sea trials are scheduled for the weekend, but the barge still needs some work.
“Some welding that needs to be completed on some of the fuel tanks, need to finish testing some of the fire extinguishing systems, general alarm system, operation of some of the fire dampers etc and then definitely need to get through some of the crew drills as well,” says Coast Guard lieutenant Paul Rhynard.
If and when the Arctic Challenger does receive the Coast Guard’s stamp of approval, it will take at least two weeks for the vessel to make the trip up to the Arctic. That doesn’t leave much time before the end of Shell’s drilling season. According to its permits, the company has to stop drilling for oil on September 24 in the Chukchi. Smith says Shell has asked the Interior Department for an extension, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said previously that he won’t even consider it until the Arctic Challenger is finished.
Meanwhile, over in the Beaufort Sea, the Kulluk drill rig is waiting out the end of the bowhead whale hunt. The hunt started over the weekend and normally lasts a few weeks, but Smith says there’s no definite timeline.
“It will be up to them to determine when the whale hunt is over.”
Shell has a month longer to drill for oil in the Beaufort than in the Chukchi.