Sea Ice Halts Shell Alaska’s Drilling of its Landmark Oil Well in Chukchi Sea

Photo credit: NASA Goddard

Only a day after Shell Alaska began drilling a landmark offshore oil well in the Arctic, the company was forced on Monday to pull off the well in the face of an approaching ice pack.

With the ice floe about 10 miles away, the Noble Discoverer drilling rig was disconnecting from its seafloor anchor Monday afternoon in the Chukchi Sea, about 70 miles from the northwest coast of Alaska.

Company ice trackers had been carefully monitoring ocean ice and, when the wind direction changed and the ice floe began moving closer, they advised that the rig shut down and disconnect from the well, Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh told the Los Angeles Times.

Op de Weegh said that the ice floe, 30 miles long and about 10 miles wide, wasn’t an immediate threat but that engineers elected to halt operations as a precaution.

“The Arctic if anything is dynamic,” she said. “That’s why we have the capabilities we have to monitor sea ice, as well as the ability to safely alter our operations.”

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