Image courtesy of Royal Dutch Shell/Flickr.

The U.S. Interior Department said Tuesday that Royal Dutch Shell can not simultaneously drill two wells in offshore Alaska as the company had initially planned.

Last week, several environmentalist groups challenged Shell’s exploration plan, arguing that it violates a 2013 Fish and Wildlife Service rule designed to protect walruses and other marine life.

The rule prevents companies from simultaneously drilling two wells within 15 miles of each other.

According to Reuters, Shell’s offshore Alaska exploration plan does not maintain the 15 mile zone between wells.

The company’s revamped Arctic drilling plan won conditional approval from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in May after two years of legal battles.

The plan calls for up to six wells to be drilled at the Burger Prospect in water depths of 140 feet about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright.

Shell can still drill one well at a time, although it is unclear how that move would affect the company’s plans.

A company spokesperson told the Alaska Dispatch News that Shell is reviewing its permit and will move ahead with its U.S. Arctic plan.

“We are evaluating the Letter of Authorization issued today and will continue to pursue the 2015 program that was conditionally approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in May. That includes drilling in the Chukchi Sea once open water permits,” a Shell spokesperson told the paper.

Earlier this week, Shell said it may be able to spin its first drill as soon as the third week of July.


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