Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) inspectors are conducting oversight of Shell drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea to ensure compliance with federal regulations and safety standards, the agency said Thursday.

A BSEE inspector boarded the semisubmersible drilling unit Transocean Polar Pioneer before it began drilling the top section of the well at Burger J on July 30, and a second BSEE inspector is on board the drillship Noble Discoverer at Burger V, even though the Discoverer is not permitted to conduct drilling operations while the Polar Pioneer is operating.

Shell is required to maintain a minimum of 15 miles between rigs to minimize the potential impact on walruses in the region. Shell intends to drill at Burger J with the Polar Pioneer and at Burger V with the Noble Discoverer. As the two well sites are approximately nine miles apart, Shell cannot drill simultaneously at both approved locations.

The presence of a BSEE inspector on both drilling units is intended to ensure federal oversight of conditions set forth in Shell’s Applications for Permit to Drill (APD) approved by the BSEE July 22. These conditions include a restriction from drilling into oil-bearing zones until the capping stack (a key piece of Arctic oil exploration response equipment designed to shut-in a well in the event of a loss of well control) is onsite and deployable within 24 hours.

On July 3, damage to the M/V Fennica caused by striking an underwater object delayed the transport of the capping stack to the Chukchi Sea. The Fennica underwent repairs in Portland, Ore., in late July and is currently enroute to the Chukchi Sea with the capping stack on board.

If Shell is able to transport the capping stack to the Chukchi Sea, it may request to modify the APDs and ask to have this restriction reconsidered.