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Making the Next Giant Leap in Geosciences
April 10-13, 2011, Houston, Texas, USA

Unlocking the Exploration Potential of the U.S. Beaufort Sea Continental Shelf, Offshore Arctic Alaska

Steve Phelps1; John L. Shepard1; Robert Foster1; Jamie Lambrecht1; Guenter Jaeger1; Thomas X. Homza2; Matthew Zechmeister1; Douglas Collins1; Michael Roffall1; Mark Newell1; Cody Teff1; Robert Scheidemann1

(1) Shell Exploration & Production Company, Houston, TX.

(2) Shell Exploration & Production Company, Anchorage, AK.

The Beaufort Sea OCS region of north Alaska witnessed exploration activity following the discovery of Prudhoe Bay Field in 1969 and TAPS construction. The U.S. portion of this narrow continental shelf features numerous moderate-sized, structural/stratigraphic prospects within the Ellesmerian, Beaufortian and Brookian Sequences. Prior to 1994, Shell and industry safely acquired seismic, drilled 27 exploration wells and discovered two fields.

In 2004, Shell re-evaluated the region, targeting it as one of its key global oil growth areas. Shell reprocessed legacy 2D seismic in support of the OCS Sale 195 (2005) and 202 (2007) efforts. Modern technology-based analysis helped derisk an existing stranded discovery and was utilized to capture a portfolio of other near-shore, moderate-sized, high POS prospects. Post-sale proprietary 3D has further derisked the clustered prospects. Advances in development technology, such as extended reach drilling and enhanced oil recovery, will enable economically-sustainable, small-footprint developments that will feed into TAPS.

The Beaufort Sea OCS tends to have a more limited exploration operational window due to lingering seasonal sea ice and Inupiat subsistence whaling. Shell’s extensive and ongoing engagement with local community, state and Federal stakeholders has created an understanding of their aspirations regarding a responsible exploration program with minimal impact on subsistence culture. This has included, but is not limited to: 1) collaborative listening to the NSB, NWAB, native Corps, Village Corps, AEWC and communities and incorporating their input into the Exploration Plan; 2) cessation of exploration activities within designated whaling areas and times during the hunts; 3) emissions and discharge modifications to the drilling fleet; 4) development of an oil spill response plan in excess of state planning standards; and 5) the provision of local jobs and workforce development opportunities within Alaska, in particular the North Slope.

Shell has acquired shallow hazard surveys and scientific baseline data to support the 2009 EP submission for 2010 exploratory drilling. The EP was approved by regulatory agencies but the drilling campaign preparations were halted in May 2010 as a result of the DOI’s suspension of Arctic drilling following the Horizon Incident. Shell is currently preparing to meet the regulatory guidelines and collaborative stakeholder aspirations to commence a 2011 exploration drilling program.