Shell could be returning to the Arctic after a two-year hiatus.
The company submitted a drilling plan to the U.S. Department of Interior on Aug. 28, which suggests it is considering returning to the icy waters in the far north to look for oil. While no final decision has been made, Shell’s submission puts the company on track to drill in the summer of 2015.Shell has spent several years and nearly $6 billion on its Arctic campaign thus far. Harsh conditions, poor infrastructure, and a short drilling season hindered its progress, but it was the company’s bungled 2012 operations – a rig ran aground and its oil spill response ship failed inspection -- that nearly ended its plans in the Arctic for good.
Hoping to put those troubles behind it, Shell has now submitted a paired-down drilling blueprint that eliminates exploration in the Beaufort Sea.
But before Shell can move its rigs into the Chukchi Sea, several obstacles remain. Perhaps the most important is a revised Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) currently under review by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The bureau is redoing its analysis after a court earlier this year invalidated parts of a 2008 environmental assessment.
The problem was that in its evaluation of the environmental impact of drilling, the government only assumed 1 billion barrels of oil would be discovered. Environmental groups successfully sued, arguing that regulators did not consider the possibility that more resources would be discovered, or the possibility that multiple wells would be developed, leading to potentially more environmental damage than the government estimated.
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