Shell to abandon Arctic offshore drilling ‘for the foreseeable future’

The Noble Discoverer in Unalaska in 2012. (KUCB-Unalaska file photo)
The Noble Discoverer in Unalaska in 2012. (KUCB-Unalaska file photo)

Shell Oil announced late Sunday night that it is abandoning offshore drilling in Alaska “for the foreseeable future.”

The announcement came as the company reported disappointing results at its exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea. The well, called the Burger J site, is about 150 miles from Barrow, in about 150 feet of water. In a statement posted online and emailed to reporters Sunday night, Shell reported that its team had drilled to about 6,800 feet and “found indications of oil and gas,” but not enough to continue exploration at the site.

The company said the decision to end offshore exploration in Alaska reflected those results and the project’s high costs, but also what it called a “challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment.”

Shell has spent more than $7 billion on its offshore program in the Arctic.

Environmental groups celebrated Shell’s pullout and gave credit to their supporters and activists.

“Whether they took to kayaks or  canoes, rappelled from bridges, or spread the news in their own communities, millions of people around the world have taken action against Arctic drilling,” Greenpeace USA Executive Director Annie Leonard said in an email sent to reporters.  “Today they have made history.”

The announcement comes the day before a key deadline. Shell has to be out of oil-bearing rocks by today. The company must now move its two rigs and a flotilla of support vessels out of the Arctic. The company says the well itself will be sealed and abandoned in accordance with industry regulations.