Previously on this little soap opera: Shell arrives in the Arctic, almost losing a boat. The company’s friends back in Washington worry whether Shell will have enough time to drill before the ice closes in later this year. And now, back to our story.

I have to say, it’s kind of amazing that Shell is profitable. Beyond, you know, the fact that it sells ridiculous amounts of an artificially cheap product that is deliberately integrated tightly into the fabric of nearly every global society. You’d think that a company that made about $2 million an hour last quarter would have this drilling thing on lock.

But, no. Shell is having to scale back its drilling plans in Alaska, even as one of the state’s senators scrambles to buy it more time.

Shell had originally hoped to drill five exploratory wells this season. But what with chasing loose boats and sea ice, it’ll probably have to settle for two.

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Unusually thick shorefast ice is keeping Shell from sending drillships into the Arctic waters and shortening an already brief window. Under federal regulations, Shell has to stop drilling in hydrocarbon zones by Oct. 31 in the Beaufort Sea; regulators are requiring that work to end 38 days earlier in the Chukchi Sea.

In the past five years, ice has encroached over the planned drill sites as early as Nov. 1, but this summer, the slow melt of multi-year ice at the season’s start means the water is colder and is a signal it could return even earlier.

Shell had planned to launch its Arctic drilling program in July; now, it is anticipating an early August start date, said spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh.

(There’s still ice in the Arctic? I thought Shell et al. had already taken care of that.)

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Obviously one solution would be if Shell didn’t actually have to stop on Oct. 31. (N.B. for Alaskans: If an oil-drenched polar bear shows up at your door that day, it’s probably not a kid in costume.) So Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is pushing to have the window extended.

The company’s federally approved exploration plan states that in the Chukchi Sea, Shell must cease drilling into hydrocarbon-bearing zones 38 days before ice again encroaches onto the drilling areas, which means a late-September deadline because Interior estimates that ice will arrive Nov. 1 at the earliest.

“I think they should be open to extending it, and I believe they will if it is determined that the ice conditions are such that there will be an adequate period of time … for Shell to get out of the water,” Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said of the September date.

I mean, look. I say, you pays yer money, you takes yer chances. Ice has literally never done any damage to any ship. So let ’em stick around! Keep drilling! After all, as Shell CEO Peter Voser notes, “A great deal of planning has gone into this program.” I know we’d all hate for that planning not to result in new oil wells in ecologically sensitive areas resulting in even more enormous profits for an oil company.

Preview of the next episode: Locked in by ice, the crew of one Shell drilling ship resorts to a Lord of the Flies-style battle for power. Meanwhile, the same thing happens in Washington.

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