Tuesday, May 29th 2012, 3:30 PM EDT
The heaviest polar ice in more than a decade could postpone the start of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean until the beginning of August, a delay of up to two weeks, Shell Alaska officials said.
Unveiling a newly refurbished ice-class rig that is poised to begin drilling two exploratory wells this summer in the Beaufort Sea, Shell executives said Friday that the unusually robust sea ice would further narrow what already is a tight window for operations. The company's $4-billion program is designed to measure the extent of what could be the United States' most important new inventory of oil and gas.
Shell has pledged to end its first season of exploratory drilling by Oct. 31 in the Beaufort Sea and 38 days earlier in the more remote Chukchi Sea to remain within the relatively ice-free summer season.
Meeting with reporters and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, on board the Kulluk drilling rig in the Seattle shipyards, Shell's vice president for Alaska operations, Pete Slaiby, said the company had given up on its controversial attempt to win permission from the federal government to extend Chukchi drilling though October as well.
"Not this year. I think it's a done deal," he said.
The summer ice melt in the Arctic has often reached record levels in recent years in what many scientists believe is a sign of climate change. But this year a high pressure zone over the coast of Alaska, low winter temperatures and certain ocean currents have combined to bring unusually large amounts of ice not only to Alaska's northern coast, but farther south in the Bering Sea as well, National Weather Service officials said.
"I do think it's going to be a slow breakup this year," Kathleen Cole, sea ice program leader for the weather service, told the Los Angeles Times....
...."We're seeing multiyear ice that they've not seen in such large quantities in over a decade, and it could impact our ability to start the well," Slaiby said. Of particular concern, he said, is the region of the Chukchi Sea around the company's Berger Prospect - potentially the crown jewel of the company's offshore oil inventory - which in normal years would be accessible by mid-July. This year, it may be unreachable until late July or early August.
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Source Link: phys.org/news