Shell gets green light for first stage of drilling in Beaufort Sea

Shell put its Arctic drilling plans on hold for the year earlier this week after being dealt a setback when the firm discovered its oil spill-containment equipment destined for its Chukchi Sea operation was damaged.

The company is still performing preparatory work in the Chukchi, and it can now do the same in the Beaufort when the fall whale-hunting season ends. It must cease those activities by the end of October.

"We will be drilling to roughly 1,400-feet and setting the foundation for the well to grow in depth," Kelly op de Weegh, a spokeswoman with Shell, told The Hill on Thursday. "This top portion of the well is time-intensive and accounts for about half the time it takes to drill a well to total depth. All of the drilling we complete this year will position us nicely for 2013."

Reports say Shell had spent up to $4.5 billion securing leases for drilling in the area. But the damaged equipment and a looming deadline for exiting oil-bearing zones in the Chukchi forced Shell to shelve its plans this year.

Republicans have said President Obama’s energy policies have added red tape that prevented Shell from entering the oil-bearing zones sooner.

The Obama administration has said new standards and oversight are necessary to avoid a repeat of the 2010 BP oil spill, which released more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“BSEE continues to closely monitor Shell’s ongoing approved preparatory drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea, and today’s approval of limited work in the Beaufort Sea must also meet the same rigorous safety, environmental protection and emergency response standards,” Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Jim Watson said in a statement.

“BSEE has set the bar high for exploration activities in the Arctic, and any approved operations must meet those standards,” Watson said.

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