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The Nanuq, one of Shell’s ice-class oil-spill response vessels. (photo)

The Nanuq, one of Shell’s ice-class
oil-spill response vessels.

Our preparations to explore for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2012 follow a number of years of work to lay the foundations for the responsible development of the area’s potential resources. Along the way we have faced challenges to our plans, and opposition remains. As we approach the start of exploratory drilling, we have been working closely with regulators, local communities and other organisations to develop robust safeguards. This has helped us refine our drilling plans.

We continue to engage with the Inupiat community and village elders throughout the North Slope Borough and Northwest Arctic Borough regions of Alaska to discuss plans for future drilling programmes. These discussions cover matters such as protecting marine mammals and subsistence hunting, reducing our emissions and discharge, and improving our capability in responding to oil spills.

The waters off Alaska’s north coast are shallow and the oil fields beneath them are relatively low in pressure, a very different environment to the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. To prepare for drilling off Alaska, we have developed a thorough oil-spill response capability. It includes capping and containment equipment, and oil-spill response vessels. Our Arctic undersea containment system is designed to capture and recover oil at the source in the unlikely event of an incident. This method has proven effective in shallow waters.

Our drilling plans include two rigs, the Noble Discoverer and the Kulluk, which can serve as back-up for one another. We have also commissioned two specialised ice-class vessels to support our Alaska programme. Native marine observers will staff all vessels and onshore communications centres to help us co-ordinate our efforts and avoid affecting wildlife and subsistence hunters.