USA: BSEE Director Conducts Safety Review Visit on Shell’s Drilling Rigs

USA: BSEE Director Conducts Safety Review Visit on Shell's Drilling Rigs

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to safe and responsible offshore energy exploration and development, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director Jim Watson traveled to Portland, Ore., for a firsthand look at Shell’s capping stack–a key piece of safety equipment that Shell is required to have in position in the Arctic as part of BSEE’s heightened safety requirements. The capping stack is similar to the one that stopped the flow of oil from the Macondo well following the Deepwater Horizon explosion. BSEE engineers and inspectors will conduct tests on the capping stack system in the coming weeks.

“If the worst-case scenario happened and Shell experienced a blowout while drilling, this capping stack would be crucial to stopping the flow of oil and getting the well under control quickly,” said Director Watson. “Unlike with the Deepwater Horizon response, where one of these stacks had to be built from scratch, we are requiring Shell to have one built, tested, and ready to go immediately in the unlikely event that a disaster strikes. This is a critically important piece of equipment and a key requirement of our heightened environmental and operational safety standards.”

Watson was in Seattle, Wash., to visit the two drilling rigs that Shell has proposed using for exploration activities in the Arctic this summer: the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer. Both rigs are currently undergoing thorough reviews from BSEE engineers and inspectors, as well as Coast Guard safety inspectors.

“We have conducted inspections of the two drilling rigs,” Watson added, “but we are not making any determinations about their permit applications until all of our safety requirements have been met, including the successful deployment and testing of the capping stack and their proposed containment system.”

Shell has requested approval to drill two exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea and three exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea this summer. Earlier this year, BSEE approved Shell’s oil spill response plans for both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, but Shell must still seek and obtain approval from BSEE for well-specific drilling permits prior to commencing operations. If the drilling permits are approved, Shell will maintain the capping stack in a ready-to-deploy state on a vessel roughly mid-way between the proposed drill sites in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and conduct monthly tests on it to ensure it remains in good working condition.

In addition, on-water exercises and drills will be conducted and on-site inspections of oil spill response equipment will be required throughout the proposed drilling operation. BSEE will use its authority to conduct a variety of equipment inspections and deployment exercises, some of which may be unannounced, to validate the tactics, logistics, resource availability, and personnel proficiency identified and relied on in the approved oil spill response plans.

Subsea World News Staff , June 19, 2012; Image: BSEE