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Oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell has announced plans to deploy an upgraded drillship in the Chukchi Sea in an effort to return to Alaskan offshore drilling by July 2014.

If required, the company will also keep a backup drillship ready that is newly contracted.

Named ‘Noble Discoverer’, the drillship is currently undergoing maintenance and improvements in South Korea.

The drillship is expected to perform exploration drilling with a containment dome that is kept on standby in case of spills, while backup would be provided by Transocean’s Polar Pioneer, which costs Shell in the range of $600,000 a day to lease.

The Transocean rig replaces Kulluk drillship of Shell that is being towed south after completion of its work off Alaska.

According to the company’s integrated operating plan, drilling at its Burger prospect will be carried out from July through to October 2014 and the Transocean’s rig will be made available to drill a relief well "only in the unlikely event of an incident", Reuters reported.

A Shell spokesman noted in an email that for a potential 2014 programme, the company is still bringing together the building blocks.

"Drilling next summer is not a foregone conclusion," the spokesman added.

In 2012, environmental opposition was raised to drilling off Alaska’s coast, compelling Shell to abandon exploration plans for the year.

A rotary as well as fixed-wing aircraft, along with ice management vessels and a weather advisory centre, will support Shell’s drilling operations.

Image: The Shell Centre in London, UK. Photo courtesy of Blueshade.