Second Shell Drill Ship Leaves Unalaska for the Arctic

After weeks of delays and public mishaps, Shell is making some progress on its Arctic drilling expedition — and they’re asking the federal government to meet them halfway.

In the last week, both of Shell’s drill ships departed Unalaska for the Arctic. The Noble Discoverer drill rig, which made headlines when it dragged anchor and almost came aground on Airport Beach in June, left on Saturday morning. It’s bound for the Chukchi Sea. The Kulluk drill ship is now halfway to the Beaufort Sea.

But the drilling season is already almost over: There’s only a month left to drill in the Chukchi, and two months left in the Beaufort. That’s why Shell is asking the government for more time.

A spokesperson told Bloomberg News today that Shell has petitioned the Interior Department for two extra weeks of drilling in the Chukchi Sea. Because of favorable sea ice forecasts, Shell says they should be able to stay in the Chukchi a little longer.

The company is also working with the Interior Department for more flexibility on the kinds of wells it can drill this season. Shell is still trying to finish retrofitting its oil spill response vessel, which has to be Coast Guard-certified before it can head north to the Arctic. They can’t drill full test wells unless that oil spill response ship is on hand.

Shell has asked the Interior Department to waive the need for a response barge and let them drill the first sections of their test wells. They wouldn’t be able to reach hydrocarbon deposits, but they would lay the groundwork for the first test wells of the 2013 drilling season.

Correction: Shell is requesting a two-week extension in the Chukchi Sea, not the Beaufort Sea, as originally reported.

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