Shell executives in Alaska are under massive pressure to prove to federal regulators by early next week that their plan to drill in Arctic waters this summer will not result in an oil disaster like the one unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.
The executives are drafting a letter due next Tuesday to the head of the federal Minerals Management Service proposing additional measures the company will take to safeguard against a major oil spill.
Those proposals have not been fully vetted internally at Shell, but they will likely involve additional testing of undersea well equipment, reducing the response time for a backup drill rig to arrive in an emergency from the Canadian or U.S. Arctic, and increasing the remote-controlled devices and steel barriers used to seal a well during an emergency, company officials said Thursday.
The Department of the Interior, which has already canceled some planned oil lease sales in Lower 48 waters in the wake of BP's Gulf of Mexico spill, put Shell on notice a week ago that it falls under a temporary halt to all offshore drilling proposals in the United States. The department also announced it will not rule on the company's drill permit until a Minerals Management Service safety review, due to the White House by May 28, is evaluated.
Top Shell managers, during a two-and-a-half hour session with Daily News reporters this week, described the procedures and equipment they use to prevent well blowouts like the one that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf and led to an immense leak that is pouring tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean per day.
Shell's critics point out that no matter what Shell does to tweak its safeguards, it can't guarantee that nothing will go wrong.
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