This operation started many weeks ago. A critical article below (biased against arctic drilling)
Shells Attempt To Get Drilling Equipment Out Of Arctic Before Winter Underscores Challenges In The Region
Nov 9, 2012
A season full of setbacks in Shells quest to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean isnt over yet. More than a week after preparatory drilling operations ended for the season, the company is struggling to get all of its equipment out of the Beaufort Sea as winter ice encroaches. As Popular Mechanics reports, as of Tuesday night, the companys Kulluk rig was still moored in the Beaufort Sea where temperatures have dropped below zero.
While the conditions dont pose any immediate danger, they underscore the immense challenge of operating in the severe and unpredictable Arctic. Due to the extremely harsh winter conditions and lack of a major port facility in the region, Shells rigs and support vessels must begin the 1,000-mile journey back to Dutch Harbor before the route becomes too ice-choked to traverse. As the Popular Mechanics reporter on board the rig describes, just unmooring the Kulluk has proven to be a logistical nightmare:
First, there were 83 men on board, a number that was supposed to go down to just 17 for the trip south. By Alaska standards, the weather remained stable, yet flights between the rig and the companys facilities on land at Prudhoe Bay were delayed for days at a time. Shell had contracted with PHI, Inc., a helicopter services company that is ubiquitous in the Gulf of Mexico. But the companys Sikorsky S-92 helicopters had not been prepared with de-icing equipment, and the pilots I spoke with lacked experience flying on the North Slope.
A second issue concerned the Aiviq tugs fuel reserves.
Shell had committed to laying a containment boom out on the ocean surface during vessel-to-vessel refueling, but the seas had been too rough to do that. The tug needed to refuel before starting to haul the Kulluk.
Finally, the Kulluk was required to offload its wastewater to another vessel for eventual disposal on land, but those operations also proved vulnerable to disruption by rough seas.
The latest challenges add to a long list of hurdles Shell has faced in a drilling season plagued with technical failures, struggles with Mother Nature, and an array of voices expressing serious concern about our lack of preparedness to operate in the region. Heres a quick review:
In February, an independent report issued by the Government Accountability Office identified a slew of environmental, logistical, and technical challenges associated with Arctic offshore drilling and concluded Shells dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region.
In April, insurance giant Lloyds of London issued a report on Arctic offshore drilling, warning that responding to an oil spill in a region that is highly sensitive to damage would present multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk.
German bank WestLB announced it would not provide financing to any offshore oil or gas drilling in the Arctic, saying the risks and costs are simply too high.
In July, Shell briefly lost control of its Noble Discoverer rig, which came dangerously close to running aground in Dutch Harbor.
In September, a British parliamentary committee called for a halt to drilling in the Arctic Ocean until necessary steps are taken to protect the region from the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill.
Total SA, the fourth largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world, became the first major oil producer to admit that offshore drilling in Arctic waters is a risky idea, saying such operations could be a disaster and warning other companies against drilling in the region.
After repeatedly failing to receive Coast Guard approval for its containment barge, a critical piece of oil spill response equipment, Shell was forced to postpone exploratory drilling operations until 2013 and settle instead for only drilling two preparatory wells.
Then just one day after beginning its long-awaited preparatory drilling operations, Shell suspended drilling due to a massive ice pack covering approximately 360 square miles drifting toward the site.
I would have thought they would have left earlier. I work for Statoil and we were going to drill a well there too. As I understand, you can only drill in the summer for a few months. Wild weather we get here in Norway, but no floating ice. We have been waiting two weeks now to pull anchors on a rig. Finally got a weather window.
Factoring weather is bad enough, but "regulatory delays" is a critical component of the cost overrun for Shell.
Shell can successfully drill for oil in the Arctic. They have no desire to leave behind a mess - they will be here for many years.
Getting permits is a wild card that just can't be factored into tight time lines, since they are burdened with subjective approval.