The horned puffin is among the numerous bird species that could be affected by an oil spill in Arctic waters. Photo: USFWS via Flickr
Royal Dutch Shell PLC is calling it quits for drilling in the waters off Alaska’s north coast—at least for 2013. The company announced today that it will suspend its exploratory exploration program “to prepare equipment and plans for a resumption of activity at a later stage.”
"It's not at all a surprise given all the serious problems they had both in the Arctic but also mobilizing to and from the Arctic," Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society, who served on an offshore safety advisory committee that advises Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, told E&E News. "We anticipated the harsh conditions would be problematic, and they were."
The company has encountered numerous obstacles in its $4.5 billion endeavor to plumb the rich oil fields in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, including weather delays, equipment mishaps, and regulatory violations. The latest blunder occurred when the drilling rig Kulluk broke free from towropes and, after a days-long struggle, on December 31 ran aground on the uninhabited Sitkalidak Island—an Important Bird Area where more than 100,000 birds overwinter and 180,000 nest in the summer.
Those setbacks have fueled environmentalists’ criticisms of the program.
“Drilling amid ice floes in the neighborhood of nurseries for threatened wildlife isn't either smart or safe,” David Yarnold, Audubon CEO and president, said in a statement. “Shell seems to have come to its senses for now—but how many accidents did it take? We’re going to keep fighting for clean air and water, healthy wildlife populations, and effective energy policies for the future.”
Shell is also looking ahead, and maintained that it's "committed to drill there again in the future."
This is one fight that's far from over.