In what environmental campaigners are calling "a huge break" for the Arctic region and by extension the world's climate, the Royal Dutch Shell oil company announced on Monday it would end exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea after disappointing results from its controversial operations in the Alaskan waters that took place this summer.
"This is a defining day for the Arctic. It’s a huge victory for the millions of people who stood up against Shell and a disaster for other oil companies with interests in the region."
—Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace InternationalIn a corporate press statement released Monday, the company said that its drilling vessel—located approximately 150 miles offshore and in about 150 feet of water—had "successfully" drilled an exploratory well to the depth of 6800 feet. Though the company claimed it "found indications of oil and gas," it said the amount was "insufficient to warrant further exploration" and said the prospected site will now be "sealed and abandoned."
Further, citing "high costs associated with the project" as well as what it called "the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment," Shell said it will now "cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future."
The announcement comes as a huge blow to Shell, notes the Associated Press, which has spent an estimated $7 billion on its Arctic efforts and was counting on offshore drilling in Alaska to help drive future revenue.
Though a Shell official called the outcome "disappointing," those opposed to offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic responded quite differently.
"Polar bears, Alaska’s Arctic and our climate just caught a huge break," said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, in response to the news. "Here’s hoping Shell leaves the Arctic forever. Drilling for oil there is inherently dangerous and will only drive the world deeper into the climate crisis. If we’re going to leave behind a livable planet, we need to leave that oil in the ground today, tomorrow and always."
Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, also heralded the news. "This is a defining day for the Arctic. It’s a huge victory for the millions of people who stood up against Shell and a disaster for other oil companies with interests in the region," he said. "Shell has gambled big and lost big, both in terms of financial cost and its public reputation. This has become the most controversial oil project in the world, and despite its bluster Shell has been forced to walk away with nothing."
"Here’s hoping Shell leaves the Arctic forever. Drilling for oil there is inherently dangerous and will only drive the world deeper into the climate crisis. If we’re going to leave behind a livable planet, we need to leave that oil in the ground today, tomorrow and always."
—Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity
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Niel Lawrence, the Alaska director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Fuel Fix blog that Shell’s announcement should be seen as "a watershed moment for the climate, the company’s investors, the fragile region and its iconic wildlife, and American consumers."
When it comes to the climate, Lawrence added, "Shell won’t be locking in fossil fuel production we don’t need and can’t afford if we want to limit global warming."
And Lois Epstein, the director of The Wilderness Society’s Arctic Program, said Shell’s announcement should deter other companies from taking similar risks in the arctic.
"Hopefully, this means that we are done with oil companies gambling with the Arctic Ocean, and we can celebrate the news that the Arctic Ocean will be safe for the foreseeable future," Epstein said.
According to Naidoo, however, the decision to drill or not to drill in the Arctic should not be left to the risk assessments of oil companies. "It’s time to make the Arctic ocean off limits to all oil companies," argued Naidoo. "This may be the best chance we get to create permanent protection for the Arctic and make the switch to renewable energy instead. If we are serious about dealing with climate change we will need to completely change our current way of thinking. Drilling in the melting Arctic is not compatible with this shift."
As the news spread on Monday morning, the #ShellNo hashtag—which has been used to protest Shell's arctic drilling plans throughout the summer—was also celebrating what was largely received as a vindication for that opposition: