The news came just a month after the Obama administration canceled two planned Arctic oil lease sales, in 2016 and 2017, citing lack of interest.
“First Shell and now Statoil abandoning offshore leases sends a strong message to decision makers meeting in Paris next month. Pursuing oil and gas in the U.S. Arctic Ocean is too risky and expensive for both the environment and companies’ economic portfolios,” Susan Murray, a deputy vice president of Oceana, said in a statement. “The global threats imposed by climate change require that decisions made about important Arctic Ocean resources apply careful planning, precaution, and science to ensure a sustainable future for the Arctic and, in turn, our planet.”
For Alaskans, whose state budgets have been decimated by low oil prices, the sudden turnabout for both Shell and Statoil may seem a bit dazzling. Many had welcomed the ventures.
“This is extremely bad news for our state,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan in a statement. Sullivan rather bluntly blamed the Obama administration for the outcome: “I don’t think that most Alaskans could have imagined that it would be our own federal government that would kill, through over burdensome regulations and uncertainty, the great promise of energy development in the Arctic [outer continental shelf].”
But the real picture may be more complicated. Yes, there were regulatory hurdles, suggests Heather Conley, senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Both Statoil and ConocoPhillips were closely following Shell’s progress (or lack thereof) in the Chukchi,” Conleysaid by e-mail. “They observed the challenges Shell experienced in receiving federal permits as well as certifications and numerous legal challenges. All these things informed their decision.”
“At the same time, both the current price environment as well as the need to dramatically reduce costs made this decision fairly straightforward,” Conley added. “Statoil will focus its Arctic operations closer to home in the Barents Sea.”