Shell plans 2014 Alaska drill with Discoverer

Shell intends to restart drilling off Alaska in 2014 with an upgraded Noble Discoverer drillship, with Transocean's Polar Pioneer semisubmersible on standby if a relief well is needed, according documents filed with regulators.

The Anglo-Dutch supermajor told regulators that the 1975-built drillship had undergone a raft of repairs and improvements ahead of plans to drill the company's Burger prospect in the Chukchi sea between July and October or November of next year.

The Discoverer had headed to Asia for a major refit and possible engine replacement after a setback-ridden season in 2012 that saw the rig flunk 16 items on a Coast Guard inspection and nearly run aground after slipping its moorings.

"Improvements in the scope of work include modifications based on lessons learned during the 2012 season as well as maintenance items to preserve the ship’s operability and reliability in preparation for further work in Alaskan offshore waters," Shell said in an Integrated Operations Plan (IOP) filed with the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

"This program has included work to the hull, as well as to major ship systems with a focus on improving safety and environmental performance and operational efficiency."

The plan remains pending as the BOEM has already requested more information.

Upstream previously reported that the supermajor picked up Transocean's harsh-environment Polar Pioneer on a three-year term with Transocean at a day rate of $620,000.

Absent from Shell's plan was the Kulluk drilling barge, which slipped mooring lines in rough seas and ran aground in 2012, causing the company embarassment and a price tag of at least $90 million.

The Discoverer is presently in Korea but its contract with Shell runs out in February 2014, according to Noble's November fleet status report.

That contract, which kicked off in March 2012, is at day rate of $244,000, according to the company's data.

Shell has also honed in on improving its logistics operation, due to begin advance work in the February-June period.

That effort includes a flotilla of nearly two dozen vessels as well as helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to support operations out of Barrow, Anchorage and Dutch Harbor.

Shell has also reinforced the Arctic Challenger containment system which famously crumpled during testing, it said in the plan.

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