Ice still delays Shell Arctic offshore drilling in Chukchi Sea

Associated PressSeptember 14, 2012 

Persistent sea ice will keep a Royal Dutch Shell drill ship off a prospect in the Chukchi Sea until at least Monday, a spokesman for Shell Alaska said Friday.

A mass of ice 30 miles long and 12 miles wide continues to block the resumption of exploratory petroleum drilling 70 miles off the northwest coast of Alaska, Curtis Smith said by email.

Shell's ship, the Noble Discoverer, began drilling a pilot hole on the sea floor last Sunday. It's the first drilling work in U.S.-controlled Chukchi waters since 1991.

Work was halted hours later as the ice mass, up to 82 feet thick, was detected 105 miles away but moving toward the ship. Shell later completed the release of the vessel from its eight massive anchors and moved it 30 miles south to wait for the ice to clear.

The ice slowed to just 0.2 knots, or about a quarter of a mile per hour, earlier this week. A low pressure system in Southwest Alaska is expected to change that over the next two days, Smith said.

"The winds that result will be the last driver to push the ice past the Burger prospect," he said.

The ice is expected to move west and could be the last significant ice in the Chukchi for some time, Smith said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Aug. 30 that Shell would be permitted to begin preparation work at the Chukchi site even though the company's spill response barge had not been certified and was not on the scene. The company was authorized to drill narrow pilot holes 1,400 feet below the ocean floor and roughly 4,000 feet above a petroleum reservoir.

Drilling is opposed by environmental groups that contend a spill cannot be cleaned up in ice-filled or ice-covered ocean waters.

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