Shell won’t drill in Arctic waters off Alaska this summer

Shell says it is committed to the Alaska exploration effort but gives no date for when drilling will resume.

The Seattle Times by Hal Bernton

 Shell Oil has abandoned plans to explore for oil this summer in the Arctic waters off Alaska, a move taken “to give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people,” according to a statement released Wednesday by company President Marvin Odum.

The decision to put a pause on Arctic exploration comes after a troubled year that was capped by one oil rig grounding at Kodiak in southwest Alaska and a second rig that worked in the Arctic cited by the Coast Guard for safety and environmental violations. Both rigs are scheduled to be taken to Asia for repairs.

Shell’s setbacks have given environmentalists new ammunition in their efforts to block any resumption of oil exploration.

“Shell’s managers have not been straight with the American public, and possibly even with its own investors, on how difficult its Arctic Ocean operations have been this past year,” said Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for The Wilderness Society, in a statement released Wednesday.

In preparation for last summer’s drilling season, Shell pumped some $200 million into the Northwest economy, refurbishing one of the rigs and contracting for other work, according to company officials.

Seattle-area shipyard officials were hopeful that work could launch a new decade of exploration and development of offshore oil fields in the Arctic.

“It’s the first new maritime-associated industry to start to emerge in Puget Sound in decades, and we’re just thrilled about it,” John Lockwood, of Vigor Shipyards, said last year.

In the statement released Wednesday, Shell said the company remains committed to drilling in Alaska in the future, but it did not set a date for when that might occur.

In 2012, the company worked on two wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea, the first time in more than a decade that the oil industry had drilled in the Arctic waters off Alaska.