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February 17, 2012

Interior approves Shell's spill plan for Chukchi Sea

The Department of Interior today announced it has approved Shell’s oil spill response plan for exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea. It isn’t the final approval for drilling in this part of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, but it’s a step in that direction.

Shell is required to have a capping stack on hand that could shut off oil in case of a spill, and equipment to capture and collect the oil and drill a relief well.

James Watson, director of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said if Shell gets final approval to drill, the vessels needed will include a supply boat with a spill recovery system on board; two management vessels; a landing craft vessel and a vessel to collect the oil.

There also would be a fleet of Coast Guard vessels and ships with skimmers and booms.

Another set of these vessels would be in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea if drilling gets approved there as well. The Beaufort oil spill response plan hasn’t been finalized.

Watson told reporters that the department has created drilling standards appropriate to the Arctic. He also said that lessons from the Gulf oil spill “are clearly embedded into this standard and we can safely move on to the next stage of the approval process.”

The announcement comes a day after a blowout at an exploratory natural gas well being drilled on the North Slop of Alaska (see story here). And a recent story about Shell’s plans in the Arctic is here.

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