After a $7 billion hunt for offshore oil in the Alaskan Arctic, Shell announced last night that the company is leaving the area for "the foreseeable future." This year's exploratory drilling season didn't turn up the oil and gas the company hoped it would.
"Shell has found indications of oil and gas in the Burger J well, but these are not sufficient to warrant further exploration in the Burger prospect," the company's statement reads. "The well will be sealed and abandoned in accordance with U.S. regulations."
Protesters in Seattle clashed with Shell's Arctic efforts this past May, with hundreds of grassroots Shell No! activists (including Council Member Mike O'Brien and former mayor Mike McGinn) taking to their kayaks and canoes to surround one of Shell's contracted rigs, the Polar Pioneer. Shell No! activists staged a number of protests for the duration of Shell's stay at Terminal 5 this summer, including an attempt, with Greenpeace, to block the rig from leaving for the Arctic in June. In July, Portland protesters and Greenpeace made another attempt to block Shell's icebreaker—the Fennica—from leaving that city after it received repairs at a Portland shipyard.
The Port of Seattle's fast-tracked decision to host Shell's Arctic fleet also drew the city of Seattle into the fray. In May, the city council and Mayor Ed Murray directed the city's Department of Planning and Development to review the port's decision, and the DPD concluded that the port's land use permit from the city didn't allow for Arctic drilling equipment at Terminal 5. Now the port, Foss, and city officials are waiting on the Seattle Hearing Examiner to rule on the port and Foss's appeal of that decision. A judgment is expected within the next week.
Foss isn't quite sure what will happen at Terminal 5 now that Shell's pulling out of the Arctic, Foss spokesman Paul Queary said. "There will probably be some work to unwind the project," he added. "We still have the lease, and we're seeking other clients. We're still waiting on the city to tell us what we can do [at Terminal 5]."
Environmentalists, meanwhile, are hailing Shell's failed season—and the protests leading up to the company's decision to abort the mission—as a win. "I think it’s impossible to know which degree we had an impact, but I think it’s safe to say it played into the larger calculus of whether it was worth it to Shell," Emily Johnston, an organizer with 350 Seattle, said.
Greenpeace and other environmental organizations are now putting pressure on the Obama administration to cut off future offshore drilling and lease sales in the Alaskan Arctic. "Arctic oil has no role in a climate safe world—and the hunt for this high cost, high risk, high carbon fuel was a sad example of how far Big Oil, and their friends in government, will go to cling to last century’s dirty energy," Oil Change International's Stephen Kretzmmann said in a statement. "The Obama Administration should immediately move to cancel all future planned lease sales in the Arctic Ocean. Enough is enough."
UPDATE: Mayor Ed Murray has some feels about Shell dropping its Arctic drilling plans. "I am pleased that Shell has ceased their Arctic drilling operations," the mayor said in a statement. "The people of Seattle stood up to oppose the use of our city as a base for expanded Arctic drilling. With today’s announcement, it is time to move forward. I am committed to working with the Port and our critical maritime industry to build a clean economy of the future that provides high-paying maritime jobs and preserves our environment."