SEATTLE— As part of the Obama Administration’s continuing commitment to safe and responsible offshore energy exploration and development, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Alaska Region Director Mark Fesmire oversaw comprehensive testing of Shell’s proposed Arctic-ready capping stack system in Puget Sound this week, to ensure compliance with rigorous new standards established since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The capping stack is a key piece of safety equipment that Shell is required to have in position for oil exploration activities in the Arctic, part of BSEE’s heightened safety requirements, and would be used to stop of the flow of oil in the unlikely event of a blowout during drilling.
During the tests this week, Shell successfully deployed the capping stack to 200 feet of water, deeper than their proposed well sites in the Arctic, and also confirmed that the capping stack would function properly under pressures exceeding the maximum expected pressures they will encounter. Similar pressure tests will also be conducted regularly in the Arctic if Shell receives permits from BSEE for exploratory drilling operations offshore Alaska this summer.
"The tests this week were crucial for ensuring that this piece of Shell’s safety equipment is fully operational and able to be quickly and effectively deployed if necessary,” Fesmire said. “We are leaving nothing to chance, and there is additional equipment that we need to inspect before we make a decision regarding their drilling permits. We are holding Shell fully accountable to the requirements of their Exploration Plans and Oil Spill Response Plans, in addition to BSEE’s heightened safety standards."
The capping stack was deployed from the icebreaker Fennica into Puget Sound near Everett, Washington. The total exercise took approximately two hours. If drilling permits are approved, Shell will maintain the capping stack in a ready-to-deploy state on the Fennica, which would be stationed roughly mid-way between the proposed drill sites in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
Shell is also required to meet a number of other technical requirements, including a test of their containment system under BSEE supervision, prior to a final decision being made on their drilling permits. The containment system is expected to be completed, inspected, and tested in July.
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 obtain approval from BSEE for well-specific drilling permits prior to commencing operations.
In addition to safety and engineering inspections such as the ones conducted this week, BSEE will oversee additional on-water oil spill response exercises and drills and on-site inspections of oil spill response equipment 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 specified and relied upon in the approved oil spill response plans.
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