Shell Halts 2013 Drilling Activity in Alaska Waters

Royal Dutch Shell PLC is calling it quits for drilling in the waters off Alaska’s north coast—at least for 2013.

Audubon Magazine by Alisa Opar

Royal Dutch Shell PLC is calling it quits for drilling in the waters off Alaska’s north coast—at least for 2013. The company announced today that it will suspend its exploratory exploration program “to prepare equipment and plans for a resumption of activity at a later stage.”

"It's not at all a surprise given all the serious problems they had both in the Arctic but also mobilizing to and from the Arctic," Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society, who served on an offshore safety advisory committee that advises Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, told E&E News. "We anticipated the harsh conditions would be problematic, and they were."

The company has encountered numerous obstacles in its $4.5 billion endeavor to plumb the rich oil fields in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, including weather delays, equipment mishaps, and regulatory violations. The latest blunder occurred when the drilling rig Kulluk broke free from towropes and, after a days-long struggle, on December 31 ran aground on the uninhabited Sitkalidak Island—an Important Bird Area where more than 100,000 birds overwinter and 180,000 nest in the summer.

Those setbacks have fueled environmentalists’ criticisms of the program.