Arctic Drilling: Ice Floe Stops Shell's Noble Discoverer From Biting Into Bottom of Chukchi Sea

Royal Dutch Shell started test drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea on Sunday September 9, only to stop a day later because of a possibly approaching ice floe.

Not even Xena the Warrior Princess could save the Arctic from deep-sea drilling, although a possibly encroaching ice floe has staved Royal Dutch Shell off for the time being.

The Noble Discoverer had its 15 moments of fame back in February when actress Lucy Lawless, whose character battled all manner of evil in the eponymous television series, was one of several protesters to occupy the ship as it anchored off New Zealand. Now the vessel has entered an unknown period of infamy, as Shell’s long-fought-for permissions to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska were finally granted. The first holes for the test wells were sunk starting at 4:30 a.m. local time (8:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time).

“This is an exciting time for Alaska and for Shell,” said Royal Dutch Shell in a statement on its website. “We look forward to continued drilling progress throughout the next several weeks and to adding another chapter to Alaska’s esteemed oil and gas history. We’re proud to be offshore Alaska, and we’re extremely proud of the preparation we’ve put in place to do it right.”

However on Monday September 10 Shell began unmooring the drill ship from the nascent well, concerned about an ice floe.

“As a precautionary measure and in accordance with our approved Chukchi Sea Ice Management Plan, Shell has made the decision to temporarily move off the Burger-A well to avoid potentially encroaching sea ice,” Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith told the Associated Press. “Once the ice moves on, the Noble Discoverer will reconnect to anchors and continue drilling.”

The AP said the ice measured 30 miles long by 12 miles wide and was about 105 miles from the Noble Discoverer.

“We’re using satellite images, we’re using radar images, we’re also using onsite reconnaissance to watch this ice so there are no surprises,” Smith told the newswire.

Even when drilling resumes, the company only has permission to drill the top part of the wells, Market Watch reported. The U.S. Department of the Interior will not grant any more than that until an Arctic spill-containment system has been installed, Marketwatch said, adding that it would take two weeks to sail the system to the site, according to Shell. That system is being tested in Washington State.