In Unalaska, some feel the pinch of Shell’s withdrawal

The news that Shell Oil was abandoning its quest for oil in the Arctic Ocean came as a shock in Unalaska and around the state. Unalaska officials said the move won’t hit the city’s budget too hard. But local companies doing business with Shell are scrambling to figure out what it will mean for them.

The Kulluk. Photo: KUCB
The Kulluk. Photo: KUCB

Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt said it will hurt the companies providing support to Shell’s Arctic effort in the short run.

“Our community will notice it, our business community will notice it because they utilized a lot of local businesses and hired a lot of folks. So, that’s too bad. I mean it was a real boon,” said Marquardt.

But she said the decision is a temporary setback.

“It’s not going to be too huge, I mean, we’re already…we’re an extremely busy port, we’ve been expanding for years, and that’ s not…that’s not going to end,” said Marquardt.

Dutch Harbor port director Peggy McLaughlin says Shell wasn’t a frequent customer of the city’s facilities.

“In terms of, you know, the bottom line, I don’t see that it’s going to have a huge impact on us. We didn’t budget for it either operationally or in terms of revenue, so yes; we’ll probably see fewer port calls. But the city of Unalaska’s port facilities were not the primary place where they called,” said McLaughlin.

But Offshore Systems, Inc. is one of the primary facilities used by Shell. For OSI, the announcement was a disappointment. Spokesman Jim Butler says OSI officials are “in the dark” and “scratching their heads” right now about how much business they will lose. He also says the company will continue to provide support to Shell as it heads south from the Chukchi Sea.

Diane Shaishnikoff of Bering Shai Rock & Gravel says she and her husband don’t have “any idea at the moment” how it will affect their company.

Grand Aleutian general manager Laurie Smith said there’s no doubt the hotel’s occupancy rates will fall in the short-term. She also said she was a little sad to hear the news; she and the staff had developed relationships with the many Shell personnel that used the hotel as a base. But Smith said the hotel will continue to have business without Shell. And that she’ll be able to get some long-deferred maintenance projects done now.

Not everyone in Unalaska was dismayed that Shell is abandoning the Arctic.

This summer, when Shell’s rigs stopped in Unalaska, Suzi Golodoff flew an anti-drilling banner. She said she got calls from far-flung relatives on Monday morning celebrating the news.

“On a local level I’m really ecstatic that Shell has decided not to come here because as a community it’s just going to maybe spur us a little bit to say, boy you know, maybe there’s something wrong with this oil thing,” said Golodoff.

Golodoff said she hopes the community will look at developing other energy sources.

“Maybe we could do geothermal, maybe we could do hydro, we could do wind, we got, you know, these ocean passes right outside our door. We could be doing all kind of things. The technology is there,” she said.