Safe! Shell abandons high-risk oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean

Image: Shell's Polar Pioneer drill rig by Background Campaign, Jeff Dunnicliff

After nearly a decade of work and an investment of roughly seven billion dollars, Royal Dutch Shell is going home empty-handed. Alaska’s Arctic Ocean is safe.

Shell announced its abandonment of Arctic plans after failing to find more than a trace of oil and gas during this summer’s drilling season, but the company also cited regulatory uncertainly and high costs as reasons for abandoning its plans in the Arctic Ocean.

“Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is high risk for the environment and financially,” said Lois Epstein, a licensed engineer and Arctic Program Director for The Wilderness Society. “Shell’s announcement is very good news for the marine environment, sensitive coastal lands and the Arctic communities that would be devastated by a major oil spill.”

Shell was never capable of operating without problems in such a remote and extreme environment, and Arctic offshore oil development would have been a disaster in the making. Industry insiders have told reporters that Shell’s failure likely will keep other companies out of the Arctic Ocean because the financial risk—and public opposition—are simply too great.

By keeping pressure on federal regulators and companies like Shell, The Wilderness Society, our active members and our partner organizations ensured that going after the world’s most risky and expensive oil would be difficult.

The threat of a major oil spill has been lifted for Native villages on Alaska’s northern coast, relieving many who depend on the natural resources of the Arctic Ocean for cultural survival.  The whales, seals, fish and polar bears on which those communities depend for their survival will remain safe.

“The Arctic Ocean is one of our nation’s treasures,” Epstein added. “And now the threat of a major oil spill that can’t be cleaned up has been removed.”

Because Arctic Ocean oil production likely would require an onshore pipeline hundreds of miles long through the western Arctic’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the threat of habitat fragmentation and an oil spill also has been eliminated, according to Nicole Whittington-Evans, The Wilderness Society’s Alaska regional director.

Shell’s in retreating, and the Arctic is safer. That’s cause for celebration.

Timelines of Shell's blunders in the Arctic