Ice prompts Shell to halt Arctic drilling

Shell has paused its drilling operation in the Arctic just a day after starting. The Noble Discoverer drill rig cut into the Chukchi Sea floor Sunday morning but had to disconnect from the well site Sunday evening to get out of the way of a massive island of sea ice bearing down on the area.

“It’s about 30 miles long. It’s about 12 miles wide,” Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith says. “It’s moving about 0.3-0.5 knots. It varies in thickness of course, but in its thickest area it’s about 25 meters (82 feet) thick, so that’s pretty substantial.”

Operations could be shut down for several days while the ice moves past the drill site. Smith emphasized that this just part of working in the Arctic.

“When we worked in the Chukchi and the Beaufort in the 1980s and 90s, this happened then, so it’s not unusual. I think the key is just having a heads up approach and making sure you see what’s coming.”

Smith says Shell had been monitoring the ice island since it was about a hundred miles away from the drill site. A shifting wind brought it towards the company’s Burger prospect. On Monday afternoon it had moved to within 15 miles of the vacated drill site.

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