Arctic Ocean gets a reprieve from ConocoPhillips’ oil drilling plans


Polar bear on Beaufort Sea ice off the coast of Alaska

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

ConocoPhillips has announced it will abandon plans to drill for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas next year.

This is wonderful news for one of the most sensitive and remote environments in the world, and it comes only after oil companies were humbled by Arctic weather conditions last year. 

ConocoPhillips issued an April 10 statement citing regulatory “uncertainties” as the reason for its decision to shelve drilling plans for 2014.

The news comes just weeks after Shell oil announced it would also suspend drilling for the year, following a year of Shell accidents and mishaps in the Arctic

The statement comes just weeks after the U.S. Department of the Interior released the findings from a 60-day review of Shell’s technical errors and the failed attempt to drill in the Arctic Ocean and one week after an Interior report on the need for integrated Arctic management.

"This recognition by ConocoPhillips of the complicated, expensive, and highly risky nature of Arctic Ocean drilling is great news," said The Wilderness Society’s Arctic program director and Alaska-licensed engineer, Lois Epstein. “The Bush administration leased Arctic Ocean areas prematurely, and industry and government are now coming to terms with the problems resulting from that decision.”

Epstein, based out of The Wilderness Society's Anchorage office, also serves on the Department of the Interior’s Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee. The committee has recommended that the federal government develop Arctic-specific standards to regulate offshore drilling and production in one of the harshest and most remote environments in the world.

“The U.S. needs to show leadership by performing sufficient Arctic Ocean science, protecting sensitive offshore areas, ensuring effective recovery of spilled oil, and developing Arctic-specific regulatory standards before allowing drilling to proceed,” Epstein said.

The world saw clearly in 2012 that Shell drastically underestimated the challenges of operating in Arctic conditions.

“Any oil produced in the Arctic Ocean would be among the most expensive in the world,” Epstein added. “With unconventional oil production now on the increase, companies are smart to avoid drilling in the Arctic Ocean, one of the most sensitive, harsh, and remote environments that exist.”

Video: Watch the grounding of the Kulluk rig, one of many Shell accidents that happened in 2012. 


View Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in a larger map