500-Meter Safety Zone for Shell's Alaska Drillship

It is one of two Shell Exploration & Production Co. drilling rigs en route from Seattle to the Arctic waters off Alaska to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Two Shell Exploration & Production Co. drilling rigs -– the Kulluk, which must be towed, and the Noble Discoverer, a drilling vessel converted from a log carrier –- are now en route from Seattle to the Arctic waters off Alaska, specifically to undertake exploratory well drilling operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The U.S. Coast Guard issued a temporary final rule June 28 setting a 500-meter safety zone around the Noble Discoverer, "from the surface to seabed," to protect it from other ships and prevent allisions and the possibility of oil spills and/or natural gas releases.

Because of the remote location where the rigs will be deployed, the Coast Guard said it may use criminal sanctions to enforce the zone, which will be in effect beginning July 1 through Nov. 30, 2012.

Lisa Demer of The Anchorage Daily News reports Shell paid $2.1 billion for the Chukchi leases and expects to get needed gas permits from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in July. Greenpeace has protested the drilling plan.

The Noble Discoverer is a self-contained drilling ship that has full accommodations for up to 124 people. Its hull has been reinforced for ice resistance, according to the temporary final rule.

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