Shell drilling

Shell has announced that it will postpone drilling operations in the Arctic until 2013 after a final test on its environmental protection equipment failed to meet the appropriate standards.

The company said a new type of containment dome for a leaking wellhead aboard the Arctic Challenger barge has been damaged and will take "some days" to repair it.

"We are disappointed that the dome has not yet met our stringent acceptance standards; but, as we have said all along, we will not conduct any operation until we are satisfied that we are fully prepared to do it safely," Shell said in a statement.

Shell will be unable to secure a permit to undertake full drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea, 70 miles off Alaska’s north-west coast, until next year.

The arctic drilling campaign has been plagued with setbacks; minor drilling which began early in September 2012 had to be stopped as an ice block 30 miles long and 12 miles wide appeared to be heading toward the drill ship.

As the company was racing to get ahead with the programme, efforts to protect local whaling operations delayed it.

In order to lay a foundation for operations in 2013, Shell said it will forgo drilling into hydrocarbon zones this year.

"Instead, we will begin as many wells, known as ‘top holes,’ as time remaining in this season allows. The top portion of the wells drilled in the days and weeks ahead will be safely capped and temporarily abandoned this year, in accordance with regulatory requirements," the company added.

In the coming days, Shell is expected to begin exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea. These operations will follow the conclusion of the fall whale hunt and the anticipated receipt of a top hole drilling permit.

Shell has spent more than $4.5bn during four years preparing for work in the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea.

Image : Aerial view of the Chukchi Sea. Photo courtesy of: P199.