The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is seeking more information from Shell about their 2014 Chukchi Exploration Plan.
Until Shell provides the agency with the answers for dozens of requested revisions, BOEM will not consider their application complete.
The Regional Supervisor for the Office of Leasing and Plans within BOEM, David Johnston, said the ball is now in Shell’s court. The agency is seeking more details on Shell’s ships, the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer. They also have questions about Shell’s plans to deal with air quality issues, among other things.
“We’re just trying to get a much better understanding of the overall approach that Shell’s going to be taking,” he said, “especially in light of some of the difficulties they faced in 2012.”
Johnston said the 2012 drilling season showed that Shell needs to be more prepared for the Arctic conditions and have more contractor oversight.
The 2012 drilling season “was a good experience for Shell as well as the agency. I think the fortunate thing [is] there was no serious loss of life or environmental damage. But it certainly gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn from that experience, and hopefully we will have improved Shell’s activities as well as our oversight of those activities.”
But Erik Grafe with EarthJustice said the current exploration and operations plans don’t show that Shell has put those lessons to good use. “I think that Shell has to demonstrate that it’s put the pieces together. It really messed up in 2012 and it really needs to be held to a high standard if it’s going to be allowed back in 2014.”
EarthJustice and other environmental groups sent a letter to BOEM stating that Shell’s current plans are too vague. The plans don’t outline things like why the spill response equipment will be stationed in Kotzebue Sound instead of closer to the drill sites and how the faulty spill containment dome was improved.
Shell spokesperson Megan Baldino would not comment on how the request for revisions will impact their timetable for future drilling and would only speak generally about their future plans.
“We continue to put the building blocks in place for an upcoming exploration season in the event that we decide to make that decision,” she said. It’s “really important to point out that this is a multi-year exploration program. And so every step we take is going to be contingent on meeting all the conditions necessary to proceed safely and responsibly.”
Once BOEM has all of the requested information from Shell, they have 15 days to decide if they need more. When the application is considered complete, the agency has only 30 days to review it along with public comments and make a final decision.
The approval would stand until Shell completes their operations, even if it takes more than one season.
Johnston said that if the exploration plan is approved, it could come with conditions such as a requirement to stop drilling by September 17, a week earlier than in 2012.