“It’s the first time a drill bit has touched the sea floor in the U.S. Chukchi Sea in more than two decades,” – a Shell spokesperson said as the company announced its “historic” first test well in offshore Alaska. And now is not a good time. Shell’s permit to drill was conditional on the company’s blowout capping equipment being tested in Arctic conditions and approved by the US Deparment of Interior. The approval, it now appears, was based on a 2 hour test and a page-long document.
The field-testing took place over less than two hours in Puget Sound on June 25th and 26thand involved only two BSEE officials and Shell. The first day, they lowered the capping stack to a depth of 200 feet, but did not try to attach it to a simulated wellhead and blowout preventer (BOP), as would be necessary in a real-world blowout. The second set of tests, which appear to have been conducted on dry land, were a “pressure test of the capping stack” but those tests –
- Were run for minutes, not hours, despite the fact that any capping system would need to withstand hours, days or weeks of pressure in icy conditions, and subjected to many variables;
- Initially lacked a “low-pressure test,” though Shell claimed it would perform this test later; and
- Went unmonitored by an independent engineer or any third party. Other than these skimpy notes, BSEE produced no evidence of what the testing actually showed.
Our research previously raised questions about Shell’s motivation in pursuing such a financially and environmentally dubious project. The FT’s Ed Crooks and Guy Chazan now suggest that Shell’s problems in Alaska are making other companies hold off expanding in the Arctic: but Shell ploughs on and is even pushing for its drilling season to be extended (the current deadline, set by the US regulators according to ice dynamics in the Chukchi Sea, is September 24th). Historic? Maybe. Reckless? Certainly.