Royal Dutch Shell said on Monday that an icebreaker crucial to its planned Arctic oil drilling will
be sent to Portland, Oregon, to repair a gash in its hull, but is not expected to delay plans to begin drilling off northern Alaska later in July.
The 39-inch (1 meter) gash in the hull of the Fennica was found last week. Voyage time between Portland and southern Alaska should not delay the company's plans to begin drilling off northern Alaska in the Chukchi Sea later
this month, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said.
The Fennica is one of two ice management vessels in Shell's fleet of nearly 30 ships it expects to bring to the Chukchi off northern Alaska this summer. It contains the capping stack, or emergency equipment designed to contain a blown-out undersea well, required for the drilling. "We do not anticipate any impact on our season as we don't expect to require the vessel until August," Smith said.
Shell believes that drilling can proceed while the Fennica is being repaired so long as it does not extend into the zone bearing oil and gas. It plans to build the foundations of wells and do other preparatory work before drilling into that zone.
The gash found in the Fennica was the second recent setback to Shell's Arctic ambitions. On June 30 the Interior Department informed
Shell that established walrus protections prevent it from drilling two wells simultaneously that are less than 15 miles (24 km) apart, which means the company has to adjust its drilling this year.
Shell has not drilled in the Arctic since 2012 when after the summer drilling season an enormous drilling rig it was leasing broke free and grounded. If Shell discovers oil, it could begin producing in 10 or 15 years. After this season it will have spent about $7 billion on Arctic drilling off Alaska before producing oil.
The company needs two minor permits from the Department of Interior before it can start drilling.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler)