Shell revises drilling schedule for Arctic

Lisa Demer

Shell Oil Co. has scaled back its plans for drilling in Alaska's Arctic this year, and now is aiming for two complete wells, one each in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The company also plans to begin an as-yet-unspecified number of additional wells, said spokesman Curtis Smith.

Earlier, Shell had planned to drill five wells this season, but it's behind schedule because of lingering sea ice, problems with a permit limiting air pollution, and an oil spill containment barge that still is not ready.

Shell's Arctic plans call for 10 wells this year and next, and it still hopes to complete that many or close to it, Smith said.

Shell expects to drill two wells 8,000 to 9,000 feet deep, reaching a layer of hydrocarbons.

The top hole, or foundational part of the well, starts a 20-by-40-foot-area excavated at the seafloor for installation of a blowout preventer, Smith said.

"It also includes foundational casing that is actually cemented. Once that is in place, it allows you to revisit the well in the future," Smith said. The partial wells could be as deep as 2,700 feet, he said.

The days spent this summer and into the fall will save time in 2013 when Shell plans to reenter the Arctic, he said.

Shell's top priority now is completion and Coast Guard certification of the Arctic Challenger, its oil spill containment barge still being worked on in Bellingham, Wash. Federal regulators say they won't approve permits for Shell to drill any wells until the vessel is complete and has passed inspections, including a test of its containment equipment in the water.

Its two drilling rigs and support vessels remain in Dutch Harbor, awaiting the go-ahead to head north.

"The ultimate certification of the Challenger will trigger the movement of the fleet itself but the timing of that has yet to be determined," Smith said.

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.

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