Environmental activists have been going HAM trying to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic for years now. They've staged protests, petitioned the President, and enlisted the help of Robert Redford. In July, a group of thirteen Greenpeace activists even dangled off a bridge in Portland for over 24 hours to stop a Shell drilling rig en route to Alaska from leaving the port.
Much to the relief of everyone concerned that drilling in the arctic -- and in particular, the risk of oil spills -- could have devastating affect on local people, ecosystems and wildlife (including polar bears, which are threatened under the Endangered Species Act), Shell announced today (Sept. 28) that they will stop offshore drilling in Alaska for the "foreseeable future."
The decision was made because drilling tests in the region cost $7 billion to execute but found little or no oil, and also because, as The Guardian reported, Shell "repeatedly stressed the enormous hydrocarbon potential of the far north region in public, but in private began to admit it had been surprised by the popular opposition it faced."
“Big oil has sustained an unmitigated defeat," Greenpeace UK's executive director John Sauven told The Guardian. "They had a budget of billions, we had a movement of millions. For three years we faced them down, and the people won... Now President Obama should use his remaining months in office to say that no other oil company will be licensed to drill in the American Arctic.”
Environmental groups and scientists have also argued that we're already burning off far too many of the world's excess oil reserves, and that drilling for more will dangerously speed up climate change. The New York Times reported today that "with demand dwindling, the current 94 million barrel a day oil market has roughly 2 million barrels in surplus supply."
Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace, told the New York Times that Shell's decision not to drill in the Arctic is a step in the right direction. “This is a victory for everyone who has stood up for the Arctic," she said. "There is no better time to keep fossil fuels in the ground, bringing us one step closer to an energy revolution and sustainable future.”
Shell made it clear, however, that this might not be forever. “Shell continues to see important exploration potential in the basin, and the area is likely to ultimately be of strategic importance to Alaska and the U.S.," Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas said in a statement. "However, this is a clearly disappointing exploration outcome for this part of the basin.”
It isn't just environmentalists who have concerns about Alaskan drilling -- it's economists and industry experts, too. The Guardian reports that "an increasing number of energy industrialists and other experts" have also "questioned the wisdom of Arctic drilling, including former BP chief executive John Browne..." and The New York Times reported that Biraj Borkhataria, a financial analyst at RBC Capital Markets in London wrote in a note to investors, “We think the budget for exploration drilling would be better spent elsewhere."
Earlier this month, Shell was also forced out of an environmental group it originally helped co-found in 2005 because of the controversy surrounding their plans to drill in Alaska, and several 2016 Presidential candidates including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have also expressed their disapproval of Alaskan offshore drilling.