The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) today issued an approval of Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc.’s Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP) for the Beaufort Sea.
This decision follows the bureau’s thorough review of the plan and consultations with federal and state partner agencies involved in Arctic oil spill response. Shell has proposed drilling up to four shallow water exploration wells in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea this summer, beginning on July 1.
The approval issued today does not authorize Shell to begin drilling in the Beaufort Sea; Shell must still obtain approval from BSEE for well-specific drilling permits prior to commencing drilling operations.
“We have conducted an exhaustive review of Shell’s response plan for the Beaufort Sea,” said BSEE Director James A. Watson. “Our focus moving forward will be to hold Shell accountable and to follow-up with exercises, reviews and inspections to ensure that all personnel and equipment are positioned and ready.”
Shell plans to stage a full suite of response assets near the offshore drill site for immediate response, while also having additional equipment available for quick delivery in the event that sustained spill response is necessary. BSEE’s approval follows months of comprehensive internal, public, and interagency review, including involvement of the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska, chaired by Department of the Interior Deputy Secretary David J. Hayes. More information on the federal government’s preparedness and response coordination efforts is available at: http://www.bsee.gov/BSEE-Newsroom/BSEE-Fact-Sheet/Arctic-Fact-Sheet.aspx.
Shell was required to substantially rewrite previously approved Arctic spill response plans to make clear their plan to mobilize and sustain a massive response over an extended period of time. Among other changes and more stringent requirements, BSEE required Shell to:
- Prepare for a worst case discharge nearly three times that of their previous Beaufort Sea plan, and in adverse weather conditions;
- Graph the trajectory of the potential worst case discharge over a 30-day period, as opposed to the 3-day graph in their previous plan;
- Identify the specific equipment they would use for dispersant application and in-situ burning; and
- Provide additional detail on the logistics of bringing equipment in from outside the region.
Before drilling in the Beaufort Sea, Shell must submit to BSEE applications for permits to drill for each proposed well. Each application will be analyzed based on the unique characteristics of the proposed well and must fully comply with rigorous post-Deepwater Horizon safety and environmental standards, including those relating to well design, workplace safety, and the operator’s ability to deal with the potential for a blowout and worst-case discharge. Shell has proposed a well control containment capability that consists of a combination of a subsea capping stack, and surface separation equipment that will be located on a newly-built containment vessel, all of which will be inspected by BSEE prior to the beginning of any proposed operations.
Shell must also comply with requirements imposed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in its conditional approval of Shell’s Exploration Plan for the Beaufort Sea. These conditions include requirements that Shell have available and demonstrate its ability to deploy a well capping and containment system, as well as take measures to avoid conflicts with Native Alaskan subsistence activities. Specifically, beginning on August 1, Shell must employ an approved, site-specific bowhead whale monitoring program. Shell must also suspend any drilling operations in the Beaufort Sea by August 25 and may not resume activity until after nearby Native Alaskan villages have completed their subsistence hunts and Shell has received approval from BOEM.
Subsea World News Staff , March 29, 2012; Image: BSEE