Shell Arctic Drilling Receives U.S. Approval

Mike Schuler
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August 17, 2015

Polar Pioneer drilling rig. Photo: Shell Alaska


The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has granted Shell its final approval to drill for oil and gas offshore Alaska in the arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea.

According to the BSEE, Shell received approval for its Application for Permit to Modify to conduct exploratory drilling activities into potential oil-bearing zones offshore Alaska at one of two wells at the Burger Prospect, known Burger J. The BSEE said that Shell remains limited to the top section of the second well, Burger V.

The approval comes after the icebreaker Fennica, carrying a required piece of containment equipment known as the capping stack, arrived in the Chukchi Sea following repairs to fix a hole in its hull suffered while in Dutch Harbor earlier this summer. The absence of the Fennica on-site previously limited Shell to drilling only the top sections of wells and prohibited the company from drilling into oil-bearing zones.

The BSEE said that the decision announced Monday came “after extensive review and under a robust array of safety requirements”, although final approval was widely anticipated.

“Activities conducted offshore Alaska are being held to the highest safety, environmental protection, and emergency response standards,” said Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director Brian Salerno. “Now that the required well control system is in place and can be deployed, Shell will be allowed to explore into oil-bearing zones for Burger J.  We will continue to monitor their work around the clock to ensure the utmost safety and environmental stewardship.”


Shell is still prohibited from simultaneous drilling at Burger J and V due to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirement that requires Shell must maintain a minimum spacing of 15 miles between active drill rigs during exploration activities to avoid significant effects on walruses in the region. The Burger J and V wells are located less than 15 miles apart. Shell is also required to have trained wildlife observers on all drilling units and support vessels to minimize impacts to protected species.

The Burger Prospect is located in about 140 feet of water approximately 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright, located in North Slope Borough of Alaska.

Monday’s approval is the first time Shell has been granted a permit for arctic offshore drilling since 2012.

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