It is generally understood that hydrocarbon exploration in the circumpolar Arctic will increase in the coming years to meet growing global energy demands. Concurrent with consumer demand is an equally important obligation to demonstrate adequate environmental understanding and risk-based operations planning prior to conducting responsible exploration and development. This is particularly the case in sensitive, extreme and remote environments like the Arctic.

To demonstrate environmental knowledge and inform project planning and equipment selection early in the exploration drilling phase, BP Exploration in Canada collected environmental, geotechnical and geochemical data in the southern Beaufort Sea over two field seasons in 2010 and 2011. The research was conducted as part of the ongoing research effort of ArcticNet; an independent academic network of Canadian and foreign university and government scientists. From the Canadian research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, a multi-disciplinary team of academic researchers and industry experts collected data on ocean circulation, chemistry and productivity; zooplankton, ichthyoplankton and benthos distribution, diversity and abundance; baseline contaminant levels in sediment and water; surface meteorology; ice properties and concentration; and marine mammal presence and movement. In addition, a significant geotechnical, geohazards and geochemical survey was completed using the hull-mounted sonars and coring equipment of the vessel.

The large amount of information collected is already informing operational plans related to drilling equipment, drilling design and environmental impact assessment. Key technical input includes ice-loads related to bearing capacity of drill systems; and sediment strength measurements input to anchoring and casing design. Geochemical analysis of piston cores collected during the field program has provided insights into the petroleum system of the area. Multibeam echosounder, high-resolution images of the sea floor are providing the accurate geohazards identification and understanding critical to safe well placement and design.

This paper describes how environmental data was obtained through industry-academia collaboration over two field seasons and how the data may input into oil spill trajectory modeling, cutting disposal modeling, environmental impact assessment, as well as mitigation and monitoring strategies.

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