Shell Offshore Inc. last week again asked federal authorities for permission to drill a single, shallow-water exploration well in the Beaufort Sea offshore Alaska.

According to the permit application filed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), the well would be drilled in Camden Bay, which is about 70 miles east of the Prudhoe Bay area of the North Slope.

The Royal Dutch Shell plc affiliate noted that its exploration plan for the Beaufort Sea was approved last year by the former Minerals Management Service (see Daily GPI, Aug. 12, 2009). The plan also has withstood litigation in the federal courts, the producer noted in its filing.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last May rejected three lawsuits brought by environmental and Native Alaska groups that challenged MMS approval of Shell's plans to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas (see Daily GPI, May 17; Sept. 3, 2009).

"We have every reason to believe the administration will permit 2011 exploration drilling in Alaska," said Pete Slaiby, Shell Alaska vice president. "The president himself endorsed our Alaska exploration program last spring. Unfortunately, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy occurred and led to a suspension of offshore activities in Alaska."

The federal court's ruling in May came just weeks after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar initiated a deepwater drilling moratorium, which included the Arctic. It also came before Shell had applied for the new drilling permits.

In an attempt to persuade federal officials that its shallow-water drilling plans would be safely conducted, Shell has pledged to deploy a prefabricated coffer dam ready for "immediate" use in the event of a well blowout and to launch a full-scale oil spill response within an hour (see Daily GPI, May 20).

Shell last week also told the BOEMRE that it would not dispose at sea any drilling mud, cuttings and various drilling fluids at its Camden Bay well in 2011. This would further reduce the producer's offshore footprint, the company said.

Last month the state of Alaska also filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior that seeks to overturn the federal moratorium in Alaska's Outer Continental Shelf (see Daily GPI, Sept. 13).

"Shell has designed and equipped the most robust oil spill response system in the Arctic known to the industry, and, in accordance with the BOEMRE's recent notice to lessees (2010-N06), further confirmed that the worst-case discharge volume for its proposed Camden Bay well is lower than previously calculated volumes," Shell stated in its federal permit request.

"While Shell planned its oil spill response system for larger discharge volumes, the new calculation will not decrease the response system's capabilities."

Shell hopes that "required approvals will come in time for us to begin planning a 2011 drilling season," said Slaiby. "We are now five years into some of our 10-year lease agreements. Further delays will only serve to jeopardize jobs and the future development of U.S. oil and gas reserves critical to our nation's energy security."

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