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AAPG ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION
Making the Next Giant Leap in Geosciences
April 10-13, 2011, Houston, Texas, USA

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

John L. Shepard1; Steve Phelps1; Robert Scheidemann1; Robert Foster1; Mark Newell1; Michael Roffall1; Cody Teff1; Charles Minero1

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

The U.S. Chukchi Sea OCS region shares strong geologic affinities to the prolific North Slope petroleum province but differs in its tectonic history. The area contains numerous giant composite structural/stratigraphic prospects within three major plays (Ellesmerian, Beaufortian, and Brookian Sequences). Shell’s initial multiyear (1989 - 1991) four well program demonstrated a working petroleum system but no commercial reserves were demonstrated. The leases were subsequently dropped in favor of the emerging Gulf of Mexico deepwater play.

Shell began to re-evaluate this region in 2004 and targeted it as one of its key global oil growth areas. Shell reprocessed legacy 2D seismic and acquired focused proprietary 3D seismic surveys prior to the 2008 OCS Sale 193. The assessment built upon the proven petroleum system elements and used modern exploration technology combined with updated tectonic and paleogeographic analyses to identify and derisk a diverse portfolio of large to giant-sized prospects within all three plays. Significant advances in development technology since the 1980’s, such as extended reach drilling, are expected to enable economically robust, small-footprint development of future discoveries.

Shell has acquired shallow hazard surveys and scientific baseline data to support the 2009 EP submission for 2010 exploratory drilling. Shell has invested heavily to meet local community, state and Federal stakeholder aspirations regarding a responsible pace of exploration. 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) emissions and discharge modifications to the drilling fleet; 3) development of an oil spill response plan in excess of state planning standards; and 4) the provision of local jobs and workforce development opportunities within Alaska, in particular the North Slope. 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 requirements and address stakeholder concerns to enable the exploration drilling program to commence in 2012. This program could unlock significant US domestic reserves and provide additional encouragement for exploration within the adjacent Russian Chukchi Sea area.