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Public input sought on Shell's Beaufort drilling plans

From Elizabeth Bluemink --

Federal regulators said this week they are seeking public input this month on a couple aspects of Shell Oil’s plan to drill an exploration well next summer in the Beaufort Sea.

One item up for public review is the company’s updated spill-contingency plan, which can be read here. Comments are due on that document on Dec. 23.

The second item up for scrutiny is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s pending revision of the Beaufort drilling project’s environmental assessment. The agency’s public notice on the new analysis can be read here. Comments responding to the public notice (not the assessment, which isn't availabe yet) are due on Dec. 22.

The bureau said its revision to the assessment will take into account changes Shell made to its exploration plan in October in light of the massive spill from a BP drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. For example, the agency will examine the environmental impact of new support vessels – including a backup drill rig that Shell plans to keep on standby in case of a well blowout – that have been added to the project. Also, the bureau will take into account “new information” from the Deepwater rig disaster, it said.

The agency said it independently estimated in October that a worst-case discharge from a blowout at Shell’s Beaufort Sea well is 1,194 barrels of oil per day. Shell’s earlier estimate was 860 barrels of oil per day. By comparison, the Deepwater Horizon blowout released at least 50,000 barrels per day for three months.

Shell says the likelihood of a blowout is very low and an oil leak could be quickly contained. But environmental groups say the company might not be able to stop a blowout from leaking vast amounts of oil if the company fails to successfully drill a relief well before encroaching winter ice makes it impossible to continue the work.

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