Shell filed a request with Interior late last week requesting about two more weeks to drill beyond the 24 September deadline that was imposed by the federal government based on estimates of when ice will begin reforming, Bloomberg reported.
“Ice forecast is indicating just under two more weeks of open water,” spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh told the news wire. “Because we could remain in the open water longer, it could also potentially allow us to drill even in the hydrocarbons zone past the September 24 date.”
Shell has already spent more than $4.5 billion to obtain drilling rights, buy equipment and get permits to drill in environmentally sensitive Arctic waters. The prize could be more than 20 billion barrels of estimated oil beneath the frigid waters.
The company had originally intended to begin drilling in July, but various delays – including Coast Guard concerns that the spill-containment vessel Arctic Challenger was not ready – have pushed back the spud date for Shell. The supermajor now plans to drill only one or two wells off Alaska, instead of the originally planned five.
Shell is still awaiting the official okay to begin drilling.
The permits Shell currently holds require drilling to wrap in the Chukchi by 24 September and in the Beaufort Sea by 31 October. Drilling cannot resume until next July.
Shell is also seeking approval for some prep work in the Arctic, including digging holes for blowout preventers.
Both drilling rigs – the drillships Kulluk and Noble Discoverer – have departed for the exploration sites and are expected to arrive around 3 September, Bloomberg reported.