In the summer of 1989, Shell Western E&P Inc., a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company, and its partners commenced the first drilling operations ever attempted in the Chukchi Sea located off the northwest coast of Alaska. The Chukchi Sea is characterized by its remoteness and hostile environment. The nearest true medical facilities are over 1300 km away in Anchorage. The importance of having a world-class safety, medical and environmental plan was recognized from the inception of the project. The need for that plan was dramatically accentuated by the Exxon Valdez oil spill on March 24, 1989 in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
This paper discusses some of the planning considerations and regulatory approvals that were required. Early on in the planning for the exploratory drilling program in this most challenging frontier area, Shell made the strategic decision to use a dedicated oil-spill response barge to provide state-of-the-art equipment and a highly effective response capability. This paper addresses what conditions made this the preferred solution and possibly of greater importance - why this solution does not apply in all situations!
In three years of operation, despite the cost and difficulty of operating in this environment, our objective of operating in a safe, environmentally sound manner was never compromised. In fact, Shell's environmental performance was acknowledged by being the first recipient of the Conservation Award for Respecting the Environment (CARE) issued by the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS). The award recognized References and illustrations at end of paper.
Shell's innovation and leadership in planning, coordinating, and executing its 1989 exploratory drilling program. Shell was also the 1990 recipient of the MMS's SAFE Award for the safe conduct of our exploratory drilling operations in the Chukchi.