| ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 7
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, March 7 ConocoPhillips
plans to drill up to two exploration wells in remote
Arctic waters next year and is undeterred by numerous setbacks
suffered there by rival Royal Dutch Shell Plc, a Conoco
official said Thursday.
The oil major is targeting a prospect called Devils Paw in
the Chukchi Sea, Mike Faust, the Chukchi program manager, said
at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA)
annual Arctic Open Water Meeting.
ConocoPhillips' exploration plan is under review by the
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the company expects to
submit additional information next week, Faust added.
The Chukchi, off northwestern Alaska, is where Shell began
drilling its Burger prospect in a season abbreviated by permit
problems, floating ice interference and vessel mishaps. Shell
also started drilling a well in the Beaufort Sea off northern
Shell announced last week it would skip drilling in 2013 so
it can improve its equipment, including a drillship damaged in a
Dec. 31 grounding in the Gulf of Alaska and another that needs
repairs to be allowed back into Arctic waters. Both vessels are
bound for Asian shipyards.
Faust said ConocoPhillips would take Shell's experience into
account, but said there were key differences between their
respective Arctic efforts.
Devils Paw is farther south in the Chukchi than Shell's
prospects, so ConocoPhillips' operations will be in an area
where sea ice melts earlier in the spring and forms later in the
fall, meaning a longer open-water season in most years, he said.
ConocoPhillips also plans to use a jackup rig, with legs
that will rest directly on the sea floor, rather than a mobile
drillship like the two used by Shell.
The rig ConocoPhillips will deploy is being built by Noble
and will be designed for extreme weather conditions,
Faust told the NOAA meeting. "We're not going to bring up a
30-year-old piece of equipment," he added.
Shell's drillships are decades old, and refurbished for
The Kulluk, which is grounded, is owned by Shell and was
used in the Beaufort, while Noble-owned Discoverer operated in
the Chukchi under contract. Both racked up several air-quality
violations, and the Discoverer was cited by the U.S. Coast Guard
for 16 safety and environmental deficiencies now being
investigated by the Justice Department.
Alaska Native leaders at the NOAA meeting said they were
skeptical about ConocoPhillips' ability to avoid ice hazards and
control pollution and noise that would disturb marine mammals.
Even the name is bothersome for an "area we use for
resources," said Harry Brower, head of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling
Commission. "Devils Paw - that's kind of insulting," he added.
Faust said the rig would be able to pull out of the area
quickly if ice conditions became dangerous. He promised that
ConocoPhillips would consult with Inupiat Eskimo residents to
avoid conflicts, and cited a long history in Arctic Alaska.
As for the name, it came from a mountain peak in the
Wrangell Range of eastern Alaska, he added.