Shell is gearing up for an “aggressive” 2007 offshore exploration programme in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea, with plans to operate two drilling vessels and drill three wells.

“We like Alaska. It’s part of the United States. We have a lot of experience here, and it’s good to be back,” says Rick Fox, manager of Shell’s Alaska operations.

Shell closed its Alaska operations in the mid-1990s, but returned to the state in 2005 after acquiring 103 federal leases in the Alaska Beaufort Sea and 33 state leases on the Alaska Peninsula near where the company hopes to explore in an offshore federal sale near Bristol Bay.

The company hopes to begin drilling in August and will be managing a small fleet of vessels including icebreakers, support vessels for anchor-handling and a new 300-foot oil-spill response barge being delivered to the Beaufort Sea this summer.

In another development, Shell says it plans to experiment this spring with marine seismic surveys done on floating ice several miles offshore Prudhoe Bay. If the tests are successful, Shell will have an alternative to conventional marine seismic surveys that have been criticized for damaging the local bowhead whale population.

I doubt the whales will notice any difference..