With its bid to launch offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean running up against a deadline to protect against sea ice, Shell Alaska has requested an extension in its window for drilling in the Chukchi Sea.
Peter E. Slaiby, vice president of the Alaska venture, said Sunday that the company has proposed extending the time allowed for drilling in the Chukchi by slightly less than two weeks beyond the Sept. 24 deadline set by the U.S. Department of Interior to allow time for cleanup of any oil spill before the onset of winter sea ice.
Meeting with reporters at an Arctic Imperative Summit here, Slaiby said the company’s latest models for forecasting the onset of winter sea ice now show the first freeze-up occurring somewhat later than originally envisioned when federal officials imposed their initial deadline for ending operations in the Chukchi Sea.
Drilling in the Beaufort Sea, closer to shore, already is allowed through Oct. 31.
A deadline extension is important for Shell, which has spent more than $4.5 billion on preparing to drill its first exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska in more than 20 years. With only a few weeks before the current cutoff for drilling, Shell has yet to receive its final federal permits.
The result has been a nail-biter for the global energy company, which is facing the possibility of missing yet another full drilling season in the Alaskan Arctic and postponing operations until 2013.
Shell now expects to complete no more than one well in each of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas this year — if that.
“What we’ve done is, obviously, we’ve looked at the language we got in the approval of our exploration plan and we’ve looked at the most likely date for ice formation in the Chukchi Sea, and that does give us some additional back-in time,” Slaiby said.