The US Interior Department has launched a high-level assessment of Royal Dutch Shell‘s 2012 Arctic oil drilling programme in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, in an effort to review existing practices.

The government also intends to assess any challenges involved and examine previous lessons learned in regards to oil and gas activities in the region.

The announcement follows an accident that took place on 31 December 2012, wherein one of two drill ships deployed by Shell for offshore drilling ran aground in shallow water in the Gulf of Alaska, after drifting in stormy weather.

The review, to be completed within 60 days, will specially emphasise on the challenges that Shell came across in relation to certification of its containment vessel, the Arctic Challenger.

It will also focus on Shell’s deployment of its containment dome and the operational issues related to its two drilling rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk.

The department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) director Tommy Beaudreau has been assigned the responsibility of reviewing Shell’s Arctic activities.

Beaudreau will also evaluate Shell’s safety management systems, its oversight of contracted services and its ability to meet the strict standards for Arctic development.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who launched the review, said it was necessary for America to develop its domestic energy sources to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and stressed the administration’s committment to exploring potential energy resources in areas such as the Arctic.

"The review, to be completed within 60 days, will specially emphasise on the challenges that Shell came across."

"Exploration allows us to better comprehend the true scope of our resources in the Arctic and to more fully understand the nature of the risks and benefits of development in this region, but we also recognize that the unique challenges posed by the Arctic environment demand an even higher level of scrutiny," Salazar added.

The Obama Administration has implemented new safeguards to protect the environment and the crew onboard offshore drilling rigs following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy, which killed 11 people.

The new safety measures include improved drilling safety standards to limit the possibility of loss of well control and a new focus on containment capabilities during an oil spill.

Image: Shell’s drill rig, Kulluk. Photo courtesy of Shell.