The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) confirmed on Friday that Shell’s Arctic drilling operation is being constantly monitored by its agents.
After months of protest by environmentalists and red tape requirements met by the Dutch/British oil giant, drilling officially began on July 30, ending the company’s three-year hiatus away from Arctic drilling.
The Transocean Polar Pioneer semisubmersible got the $1 billion campaign under way at the Burger J prospect in the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska.
BSEE Inspectors are there to provide 24/7 oversight and make sure the company abides by federal regulations and safety standards.
Two BSEE agents are on site, one on the Polar Pioneer, another on the drillship Noble Discoverer at the Burger V prospect.
Although Shell’s operation was approved on July 22 there are restrictions. One is that the two rigs do not drill simultaneously. This is because the rigs are only nine miles apart and simultaneously active drill sites must be separated by at least 15 miles.
Another condition the inspectors will be checking is that there can be no drilling into oil-bearing zones until the capping stack device – which is aboard the icebreaker Fennica – is onsite and deployable within 24 hours.
A capping stack is a safety device which can be used to contain a well blowout. The Fennica is on its way to the drill area after undergoing repairs to its damaged hull in Portland, Oregon.
Hence drilling can only be done on the top portion of the well until the capping stack is on hand.