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Shell Seeks to Extend ’12 Oil-Drilling Time in U.S. Chukchi Sea

Royal Dutch Shell Plc is seeking additional drilling time in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska as delays have cost the company about two months of exploration this year.

Shell has spent $4.5 billion to obtain drilling rights, purchase equipment and procure permits from various federal agencies in pursuit of an underwater supply of oil estimated at more than 20 billion barrels.

While the company initially planned to begin in July, ice that remained longer than usual and Coast Guard concerns with a spill-containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, delayed the start and caused Shell to cut the number of wells planned for this year from five to one or two.

Shell is still waiting for clearance to begin drilling. It filed a request with the U.S. Interior Department at the end of last week for about two weeks more to drill once it gets under way, Kelly op de Weegh, a Shell spokeswoman, said by phone today.

“Ice forecast is indicating just under two more weeks of open water,” she said. “Because we could remain in the open water longer, it could also potentially allow us to drill even in the hydrocarbons zone past the Sept. 24 date.”

Drilling was to end by Sept. 24 in the Chukchi Sea, and Oct. 31 in the Beaufort Sea -- and can’t resume until July -- under the terms of permits Shell has already obtained.

Shell also asked Interior for approval to do some preparation work in the Arctic, such as digging holes for blowout preventers -- devices designed to avert spills -- on the sea floor, before the Hague-based company gets the final permit to drill, op de Weegh said.

Drillships Kulluk and Noble Discoverer departed from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to the exploration sites earlier this month and are expected to arrive around Sept. 3, she said.

The Interior Department didn’t reply to emails and phone calls seeking comments.

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