Shell Gets Nod to Start Preparatory Work in Alaska

Shell’s M/V Aiviq, equipped with spill response capabilities, departed a Seattle shipyard in late-June with Kolluk rig in tow.

(Bloomberg) — Royal Dutch Shell Plc won a U.S. permit to begin limited preparatory work for drilling off the North Coast of Alaska, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

Shell still must meet requirements before drilling into offshore oil reservoirs in the Arctic Ocean, Salazar said today on a conference call with reporters.

Shell, which has spent $4.5 billion to explore the Chukchi and Beaufort seas that are estimated to hold more than 20 billion barrels of oil, planned to start exploratory drilling in July. It has been delayed because the U.S. Coast Guard hasn’t certified a barge, the Arctic Challenger.

“We’re confident that it can be done safely and without risk to the environment,” Salazar said during the call about the preparatory work. “We don’t even know if there is going to be exploration.”

Shell cut the number of wells planned for this year to one or two from five because of ice and delays in winning regulator approvals. The company will have to stop any drilling by the end of October, to avoid winter ice that might interfere with any spill and the cleanup.

The U.S. Coast Guard has to inspect and issue a certificate for the barge that Shell plans to use to collect spilled oil.

-By Katarzyna Klimasinska. Copyright 2012 Bloomberg.