Shell Concludes Exploratory Drilling Operations In Arctic Ocean

Photo courtesy of Shell Oil.

Shell Oil must stop its drilling operation in the Arctic Ocean by midnight. The Department of Interior established Oct. 31 as the deadline for drilling to prevent any possible disaster from sea ice. Environmental groups call this year’s drilling season was a failure.

Shell Oil would not comment for this story. The company is reportedly discussing extending its drilling permits with the Department of Interior. The Federal agency would also not comment, leaving it unclear how many permits Shell would like to extend.

The company has 275 permits in the Chuckhi Sea and 137 in the Beaufort. The earliest lease would expire in 2015.

Environmental groups are happy to comment. Mike LeVine is senior counsel at Oceana. He says Shell’s well-documented mishaps this summer should read as a cautionary tale.

“Shell lost control of its drill ship in Dutch Harbor, backtracked on its commitments to recover spilled oil and to protect air, and ultimately damaged its own containment dome in an effort to test it,” LeVine said.

Shell scaled back plans in August. The company originally planned on drilling exploratory wells, but settled for top holes – the pilot shafts for deeper boring.

The drilling rig Discoverer drilled one top hole in the Chukchi Sea and finished work Oct. 27. The drilling rig Kulluk finished one top hole in the Beaufort Sea and wound down operations two days ago.

Levine says this summer offers many lessons and indications for the future, for citizens, government regulators, and the companies.

“Hopefully Shell will learn what the company needs to do to be prepared, and hopefully other companies will look hard at the difficulties at drilling in the Arctic Ocean and responding to a spill,” LeVine said.

And by many accounts, they already are. Last month, the head of oil giant Total warned other companies about the dangers in offshore drilling in the Arctic.