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So far, so good: Shell prepares drill sites for next year

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Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 11:47 pm | Updated: 4:16 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial

Despite a slow start and numerous setbacks, the first drilling season for Royal Dutch Shell off the northwest coast of Alaska is a positive sign for Alaska’s future.

With the approach of winter, Shell ended its operations Wednesday, following the rules set by the federal government. The company has spent about $4.5 billion over six years and had hoped to complete several wells this season, but delays with spill-response equipment made that impossible.

Shell did not finish any exploratory wells, but it did complete key preparations and about half of the work needed to get exploratory wells finished in two spots, one in the Chukchi Sea about 70 miles off the coast and one in the Beaufort Sea, about 18 miles off the coast.

The work consisted of excavating a hole on the seafloor at both sites that is about 20 feet in diameter and about 40 feet deep. Next year, the blowout preventers will be placed in those holes. The hole is an insurance measure, Shell says, to protect the blowout preventers from being damaged by any unusual ice flows.

Shell is working in about 130 feet of water and the hole “provides an extra level of protection against any ice floes that could reach to the seafloor,” the company says.

In addition to carving out that underwater hole, Shell has installed casings to about 1,500 feet at both sites. Those pipes are cemented into place. When completed, the exploratory wells are expected to be from 7,000 to 9,000 feet deep.

At any time this summer there were several hundred people working offshore on the Shell rigs and ships.

A company spokesman said the company considers the season a success and will incorporate lessons learned this year in the 2013 drilling season.

That’s good news for Alaska. If Shell succeeds, its work offshore will play a key role in extending the life of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline for decades.

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