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Charles Kennedy

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Arctic Drilling Future Now Rests On One Well

Royal Dutch Shell is nearing a start to drilling in the Arctic, but has run into some hiccups.

The U.S. government decided that Shell cannot actually drill both of its wells in the Chukchi Sea as planned. The Interior Department said that doing so would run afoul of its rules that protect marine life. According to those regulations, which were issued in 2013, exploration companies cannot drill two wells within 15 miles of each other. Shell had planned to drill two wells in the Burger prospect within a 9 mile range.

Environmental groups hoped that the Interior Department would throw out Shell’s drilling plan altogether, owing to the fact that the environmental assessment the agency conducted was based on the two-well drilling plan, according to Jennifer Dlouhy of Fuel Fix. Environmental groups argued that since the Interior Department didn’t actually conduct an assessment of a drilling plan consisting of just one well, the entire drilling program should be scrapped. Related: Nature Provides Novel Solution To Energy Storage Problem

Interior didn’t buy these arguments, but still ruled that Shell can only drill one well this summer. Shell reiterated that it would move forward with drilling the lone well in the Arctic this year, having committed around $1 billion for the program.

Shell announced that it expects to be able to begin drilling by the third week in July after sea ice has melted sufficiently. Shell is still awaiting one last federal permit before it can begin drilling, and it is also awaiting the arrival of its second drilling rig in Alaska. Related: U.S. Oil Glut An EIA Invention?

Separately, several oil companies recently announced that they were putting their Arctic plans on ice. A joint venture between Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil, and BP decided to shelve plans for exploration in the Canadian Arctic. They had permits that will expire in 2019 and 2020, and the group says that they will not be able to drill before then. More research is needed and since the companies are running out of time, they have decided to suspend work and lobby the Canadian government for an extension. Related: This Week In Energy: Oil Prices Under Pressure From All Sides

Last year Chevron decided to suspend its plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea after the collapse in oil prices made doing so unattractive. The move by Imperial and its partners likely puts any significant drilling in the Canadian Arctic on hold indefinitely.

As such, Arctic drilling in North America will come down to Shell’s one well in the Chukchi Sea.

By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com

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