BSEE inspectors board Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs

Two Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) inspectors are overseeing Shell drilling operations 24/7 in the Chukchi Sea to ensure compliance with federal regulations and safety standards.

According to a BSEE statement issued Wednesday, the inspectors boarded the semi-submersible drilling unit Transocean Polar Pioneer and the drillship M/V Noble Discoverer last week as part of the bureau’s commitment to safe and responsible offshore energy exploration and development. During permitted operations, BSEE inspectors provide continuous presence while overseeing and monitoring drilling activities.

A BSEE inspector was on board the Polar Pioneer before it began drilling a pilot hole at Burger J July 30 and a second BSEE inspector is on board the Noble Discoverer at Burger V, even though Shell is prohibited from simultaneous drilling at the two approved locations.

In accordance with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Letter of Authorization (LOA) issued June 30, Shell must maintain a minimum spacing of 15 miles between rigs during simultaneous drilling to minimize the potential for impacts on walruses in the region. Burger J and Burger V are approximately nine miles apart.

BSEE inspector’s presence on both drilling units ensures federal oversight of conditions set forth in Shell’s Applications for Permit to Drill (APD) approved by BSEE July 22. These conditions include a restriction from drilling into hydrocarbon-bearing zones until the capping stack (a key piece of Arctic oil exploration response equipment used to contain the flow of oil in the unlikely event all primary and backup blowout prevention equipment fails during drilling) is onsite and available within 24 hours.

On July 3, damage to the M/V Fennica caused by striking an underwater object delayed the deployment of the capping stack to the Chukchi Sea. M/V Fennica underwent repairs in Portland, Ore., in late July and is currently en-route to the Chukchi Sea with the capping stack on the vessel.

If Shell is able to transport the capping stack to the Chukchi Sea, it may submit an Application for Permit to Modify the APDs and request to have this restriction reconsidered.

BSEE inspectors will be present on both the Noble Discoverer and Transocean Polar Pioneer throughout the 2015 Arctic drilling season.