Just a few short months after finally gaining access to the Arctic, Shell has announced it is abandoning efforts to drill for oil and natural gas in Alaska following “disappointing” results of initial explorations. Shell’s decision to abandon the Burger J exploration well, located approximately 150 miles offshore from Barrow, Alaska, has caused resounding celebration amongst advocates for the environment, who worked for years to block drilling efforts. But will this decision close the book on offshore drilling in the Arctic?
Shell, which is owned by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, issued a statement this morning to report the decision, which comes after a tumultuous series of delays in exploratory drilling efforts. Although environmentalists are meeting the news with relief and optimism, the response from shareholders isn’t likely to be so positive. The company sank some $7 billion into the Arctic drilling project to date, with $2.1 billion going to drilling rights alone.
Prior to gaining approval to drill, Shell and its lobbyists worked to convince government officials as well as the public that the drilling would be justified, based on estimates which suggested oil reserves in excess of 26 billion barrels hidden in the Arctic. Now, Shell officials report that some oil and gas were found about 150 miles from Barrow, Alaska, but the amounts found during exploration are simply not enough for the company to justify further efforts. Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, called this news “a clearly disappointing exploration outcome” while attempting to maintain the position the area is still an important region for exploration, even if this specific area of the basin was a bust.
President Obama cleared Shell to resume its drilling plans off the shores of Alaska in May, but the company wasn’t actually ready to do so at that time, due to inadequate equipment. It took the oil company three more months, until mid-August, to announce it was prepared to begin drilling and request an amendment to its original permits. The government issued approval swiftly, clearing the way for Shell to look for oil in the Chukchi Sea after the area was cleared by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Other oil companies, like ConocoPhillips, also hold rights to Arctic oil drilling. However, no other company has active plans for drilling, opting instead to freeze projects while oil prices are unexpectedly low. Perhaps this will buy some additional time for polar bears as innovators continue to develop more practical means of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, making it even less appealing for oil companies to sink billions into exploratory drilling projects in delicate areas of our endangered Earth.