U.S. Oversees Shell Arctic Safety Tests

Icebreaker Fennica
"Icebreaker Fennica" by Marcusroos - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Icebreaker_Fennica.jpg#/media/File:Icebreaker_Fennica.jpg

Published Jun 19, 2015 9:58 AM by The Maritime Executive

This week the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) oversaw testing of Shell’s proposed Arctic-ready capping stack system in Puget Sound. The tests were supervised by Alaska Region Director Mark Fesmire and are meant to ensure compliance with Federal safety standards for oil and gas exploration on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.

A key piece of Arctic oil exploration containment equipment, the capping stack is used to contain the flow of oil in the unlikely event all primary and backup blowout prevention equipment fails during drilling. It is required to be in position for all of Shell’s potential drilling activities in the Arctic.

During tests this week, BSEE personnel witnessed the deployment and maneuvering of the capping stack off the rear deck of the M/V Fennica to 150 feet of water, which is deeper than Shell’s current well sites in the Chukchi Sea. BSEE confirmed that the capping stack functioned properly under pressures exceeding the maximum expected pressures Shell may encounter in the Arctic. Deployment of the capping stack and stack pressure testing were completed in two separate exercises spanning two days.

BSEE is currently reviewing Shell’s request to drill two exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea this summer. If BSEE approves the drilling permits, Shell would be required to maintain the capping stack in a ready-to-deploy state on the M/V Fennica, which would be available to respond to a loss of well control within 24 hours. Currently, the M/V Fennica is under charter by Shell to prevent floating ice from complicating drilling operations on the Noble Discoverer.

In addition to containment and engineering observations such as the ones conducted this week, BSEE is overseeing 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 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 plans and permits.