The Noble Discover on Sept. 9 began top hole work on a petroleum prospect in the Chukchi Sea about 70 miles off the northwest coast of Alaska. The company was authorized to drill narrow pilot holes about 1,400 feet below the ocean floor but prohibited from drilling into petroleum reservoir at about 5,500 feet until a spill response barge was positioned nearby. Drilling ended for the season Oct. 31.
Arctic offshore drilling is bitterly opposed by environmental groups and some Alaska Natives who say oil companies have not demonstrated they can clean up a major spill in ocean water with ice that can range from giant floes to slush. Shell contends the chance of a blowout in minimal in the relatively shallow Chukchi and Beaufort seas and that response vessels could quickly move in to control a blowout and control a spill.