According to The Washington Post Monday, Royal Dutch Shell has applied for a restriction lifting Arctic offshore drilling permit modification less than three weeks after the United States Department of Interior Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) approved its original application. The amended permit would lift the ban preventing Shell from drilling into oil bearing zones 8,000 feet below the ocean floor. Today’s anticipated return of Shell’s M/V Fennica Finnish icebreaker vessel to the Chukchi Sea from Portland, Oregon following repairs to its gashed hull qualifies the permit for the pivotal modifications. Activists’ protests delayed the return of the M/V Fennica in Portland, Oregon for several days in a major confrontational standoff leading to federal court orders and penalties. Activists surrounded the icebreaker vessel in a determined effort, dangling from the St. Johns Bridge overhead and forming a barricade of kayaks in the Willamette River.
With every passing hour, the protestors demonstrated the urgency of the need to prevent the vessel’s return and the inevitable process leading to full scale drilling. They held on tightly to the hope of turning the tides against Shell’s expedited move. The activists gained national and international visibility for the issue of Arctic oil drilling, raising awareness and leaving no stone unturned for the public to carefully consider. Despite the outcome, the activists were likely left with few regrets after attempting everything physically and legally possible to delay Shell’s planned course of action. The BSEE permit requires Shell to have a 30 foot capping stack device prestaged for use and on site within 24 hours to qualify for its requested modification. The capping stack must be positioned over the active well of the two Burger Prospect wellheads to stop all possible blowouts.
The two Shell drilling units, the Polar Pioneer and the Noble Discoverer are within 8 miles of each other located 70 miles off the northwest coast of Alaska. Shell began exploratory drilling at the top of the Polar Pioneer well, completing an 800 foot hole designed to hold a blowout preventer when it received approval of its BSEE permit on July 22nd. Shell is permitted to continue drilling until September when the season comes to a close. Unfortunately for activists, BSEE is now likely to grant the requested Shell permit modification, and the major plans for drilling have only just begun. Shell will determine its own fate with the heavily monitored success or faults in its drilling activity in the Alaskan Arctic. For many activists, what lays ahead could potentially be the key to preservation of the fragile American Arctic, considering the risks of intensified drilling.