The crew on Shell's drillship Noble Discoverer began operations Sunday at a prospect in the Chukchi Sea. The company described the operation as "historic," noting it's the first time drillers targeted the area in more than 20 years.
"In the days to come, drilling will continue in the Chukchi Sea and we will prepare for drilling to commence in the Beaufort Sea," the company said in a statement.
Shell called on federal regulators to extend the drilling season in Alaskan waters beyond the Sept. 24 deadline. The deadline was set based in part on the 38-day timeframe that Shell would need to respond to an oil spill if it occurred. The company said its forecasts show ice would stay at bay longer than the government estimates.
Dan Howells, deputy campaign director for Greenpeace, told the Anchorage Daily News that risks remained despite a brief drilling season.
"Whatever Shell is able to do in the narrow window between now and when the sea ice returns, it won't erase the clear evidence we've seen in the past two months that there's no such thing as safe drilling in the arctic," he said.
Shell's start was two months later than expected after a series of permit delays. The Daily News report notes that Shell's permit is limited because a spill containment barge isn't in position.
Howell said Shell's track record in the region is a "dangerous logistical failure."