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Regulators seek details on Shell Arctic drill plan

Application to drill will not be complete until the information is provided

Posted: December 15, 2013 - 1:06am

ANCHORAGE — A federal agency is asking Royal Dutch Shell PLC for more details about possible plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea next year.

The application to drill will not be complete until the oil giant provides additional information in its 2014 Chukchi Exploration Plan, Alaska Public Radio Network reported.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wants questions answered on Shell ships, the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer, said David Johnston, regional supervisor for the Office of Leasing and Plans. The agency also has air quality questions.

“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.”

Shell did no exploratory drilling in 2013. The 2012 season showed that Shell needs more contractor oversight and better preparations in the Arctic, Johnston said.

The 2012 drilling season “was a good experience for Shell as well as the agency,” he said. “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.”

Arctic Ocean offshore drilling is opposed by environmental groups that contend the region lacks ports, roads and vessels and major airports that could support a cleanup effort for a major spill. Critics also say no oil company has demonstrated it can clean a spill in ice-choked waters.

Shell drilled in the Chukchi and the Beaufort seas last year but experienced problems that culminated with the grounding of the drill vessel Kulluk off a small island near Kodiak.

Erik Grafe of EarthJustice said Shell’s 2014 exploration plans don’t show that Shell has put lessons learned last year to good use.

“I think that Shell has to demonstrate that its put the pieces together,” he said. “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 say Shell’s current plans are vague. They do not specify, for example, why spill response equipment will be stationed in Kotzebue Sound instead of closer to the drill sites.

Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino had no comment regarding how 2014 drill plans could be affected by the requested additional information.

“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. She said it was important to stress that Arctic offshore exploration is a multi-year program.

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